Saturday, 31 May 2003

Shooting themselves in the foot

McDonald's has sued an Italian critic who doesn't like its burgers:
The corporation has sued Edoardo Raspelli, a critic and commentator for the Italian newspaper La Stampa, after he compared its burgers to rubber and its fries to cardboard, in an article last year.

McDonald's is seeking undisclosed damages, possibly as much as the 21m euros (£15m; $25m) it spent on advertising in Italy last year.

Many Europeans oppose American culture and think that it is personified by the McDonald's brand. The burger company is looking for damages, possibly in the region of its €21million Italian advertising spend. In exchange for the traditional advertising agency commission of 15% (a mere 3.15million Euros), I offer McDonald's the following piece of copywriting:
We provide our excellent burgers to 600,000 Italians every day. Other countrymen of yours don't like our product. That's OK - it's called freedom of choice. It's what we Americans stand for.
I think that my campaign would help the McDonald's brand - and the image of the US - more than any lawsuit.

My commission can be paid in Big Macs or pasta - I like both.

Friday, 30 May 2003

Tribute to a fellow Annan man

We bloggers are sometimes disparaging towards our "dead tree" colleagues but I was humbled to read this obituary of journalist Doon Campbell who was born in my hometown of Annan. Doon was born without a left forearm. Did he whinge and run to some disability tribunal? No, he went to cover WWII:
It was extraordinary that he was in the front line at all, but to be filing stories in his condition was remarkable. He used to cower in a ditch, behind a tree or behind a tank and bash away on his battle-scarred typewriter - with one hand - as shells and rifle shots went off around him.
Campbell covered the war in Italy, was at the D-Day landings, saw the recapture of Brussels, crossed the Rhine on a glider, witnessed the opening of Belsen, covered the German surrender, reported on events in Palestine and the Chinese civil war and then saw the assassination of Gandhi as well as interviewing Ho Chi Minh and the Shah of Iran.

The Telegraph's obituary tells us more:

In the course of searching for the press's transmitter during the next six hours, Campbell spotted two generals leading a party of 25 men through a wood, and another directing traffic; he saw a soldier being shot while approaching the white flag on a German pillbox and a German motorcyclist giving two Americans a lift. When the dispatch was published Ridgway awarded him a Combat Medal and Glider Wings.
Equally interesting is this:
On entering Brussels, where he caustically wrote that "dolly birds, with Chanel and little else, have moved into the double bedrooms"
In my possession is the post D-Day diary of my uncle - another Annan man - and it seems to confirm this aspect of the liberation of Europe....

Fair play

In the good old days the Glasgow Herald was the confident voice of the West of Scotland capitalist class. Now, sadly, nothing escapes the Herald's love affair with regulatory interference.

Over in St Andrews the Royal & Ancient Golf Club has announced a revised structure under which the governance of golf and the organising of tournaments will be undertaken by a new body that will be open to both men and women. Both sexes will now be represented in the game's rule-making authority as is right and proper. But the Herald is not happy, for although the new governing body of golf will now be open to women membership, the Club itself will remain men only (second editorial):

But, as far as club membership is concerned, the R&A will be as discriminatory as before. The club does not, and will not in the future, allow women members, a rule that treats them as second-class citizens.

No it does not.

"Citizens" (or, in our case, subjects) certainly do deserve equality before the law but a golf club is not a government and private clubs have complete freedom to set their own rules in any civilised society. The Herald should not conflate that which is public and that which is private. On second thoughts, though, wouldn't it be an improvement if the Royal & Ancient were to take over the governance of the whole of Scotland?

Get the state off our backs

The latest announcements of job losses should cause politicians to reduce unnecessary burdens on Scottish businesses. The Economist has reported that water costs in Scotland are "the most expensive in the UK":
Businesses are the worst affected, collectively paying £190m more than their counterparts south of the border.
MSPs often complain that the Scottish parliament doesn't have enough powers to help boost the economy. Well why not privatise water? Back to the Economist:
Private water firms beat the public sector on all counts. "Scotland's costly water is a salutary reminder of the cost of the country's love affair with state provision. Better to privatise it late than never."

If our MSPs are serious about helping the economy, let's see some action. Get the state off the backs of business and indeed out of our bathrooms.

Thursday, 29 May 2003

Ve haff ways of making you laugh

A German newspaper is launching a "funniest Scottish gags" contest in connection with the forthcoming Scotland v Germany football match:
The move, which threatens to spark a tit-for-tat tasteless joke competition between the nations, was launched by Bild Zeitung, Germany’s best selling newspaper, and Coca-Cola. The fifty people who submit the best jokes about the Scots will receive a trip to Glasgow for the game.
Bild Zeitung I can understand, but Coca Cola? Perhaps they are upset that Scotland is supposedly the only country in the world in which a local soft drink outsells both Coke and Pepsi:
"The verdict is positive: Irn Bru is refreshing, oddly colored, and unique. It's only a matter of time before American eccentrics are washing down their fish and chips with its sparkling flavour."
We Scots know that the real purpose of drinking Irn Bru is to cure hangovers. And that's no joke.

Limited posting

There was no blogging yesterday as I was visiting Manchester airport along with almost every aviation enthusiast in Europe and some from further afield. The occasion was the playing of the final of the Champions' League at Old Trafford resulting in a huge variety of visiting aircraft not normally to be seen in the UK.

I quote from one of the aviation news groups:

Before these groups are jammed by people expressing their thanks for a wonderful day at Manchester, may I on behalf of everyone thank all those involved from the GMP, Airport Authority, TAS, the ATCOS' all other airport workers, and all those who live in the airport vicinity and the pubs for contributing to what had undoubtedly been one of the finest days I have had for longer than I can remember. Special thanks to Steve Saint for his hourly logs, and to Lee Collins for the time he spent keeping us all informed, and to Liam MacManus who threw his garden open to a whole host of photographers. The atmosphere was brilliant, and people of all nationalities enjoyed each others company and a genuine love of things that fly. I met a large number of people I had not seen for a long time, and met many new friends. For all those who were unable to make it you truly missed an experience-the sun even came out!

With a bit of luck my camera has survived hours of intensive use. Sadly, the Blogger posting mechanism is currently barely surviving - probably because of their upgrade to a new system. Hopefully, blogging can return to normal shortly.

(Manchester certainly had a continental atmosphere with some 50,000 Italian fans in town but the pubs still closed at 11pm on Tuesday night. Oh dear, and how unalike Glasgow in 2002.)

Tuesday, 27 May 2003

Down with central banks

The Scotsman's Bill Jamieson writes about the prospects for deflation and he expects further interest rate cuts in Europe and the US. As I read the article I was tempted to reach for my copy of Human Action by Ludwig Von Mises, but Jamieson had anticipated my reaction:
For a generation of economists and commentators driven by the inflationary crisis of the 1970s into the arms of the Austrian school of economics, this is high heresy. The prime role of central banks was the control of inflation and the very first step was the halting of the printing presses.
Central bankers are apparently concerned that borrowers' debts are no longer being eroded by inflation and people therefore become less willing to borrow and spend. Well, so what, I say. There is no moral reason why borrowers should expect to have their debts reduced by inflation at the expense of lenders. A full reading of the Austrian school of economics shows that central bank created inflation inevitably causes adverse economic distortions and the best way to deal with them is to allow the inevitable corresponding deflation to take place as rapidly as possible. Then economic growth can restart, preferably without a further government-created boom/bust cycle that benefits one section of society at the expense of others.

Who then?

A viewers' opinion poll on ITV says that, "90% did not think that Jack McConnell had chosen the right ministers" for his post-election cabinet. I presume that McConnell has picked some of the more competent people from those available and yet the viewing public are not impressed. It is reassuring to note the public's reaction to the governing clique; it would be better still if the voters hadn't elected them in the first place.

Monday, 26 May 2003

I'll drink to this

There are plans to construct the world's most northerly distillery in Shetland.
The distillery plans annual production of 40,000 cases of premium single malt, in peated and unpeated versions, and a variety of wood finishes.
Good news indeed. I have been to Shetland only once and greatly enjoyed the visit. I must say, though, that the Shetland weather makes a wee dram a necessity rather than an optional extra.

I spoke too soon

The other day I wrote about Rosie Kane, the new SSP MSP, who wants to ban the use of the word "ned" in the Scottish parliament. I noted that I had expected a somewhat more robust initiative from her:
Perhaps a call for the toiling masses to storm the Bank of Scotland?
Maybe Ms Kane is a reader of this site for she has now upped the ante:
ROSIE Kane, the high-profile Scottish Socialist Party MSP, has set out her party’s intentions towards big business by demanding the nationalisation of the Royal Bank of Scotland and HBOS (Halifax Bank of Scotland)
And what has brought Ms Kane on from worrying about politically incorrect parliamentary language to calling for the nationalisation of our largest companies? It's this:
For bouncing a £4.95 direct debit two weeks ago I got charged £30
Poor Rosie - another politician who can't balance the books.

I am sure that most readers understand full well why nationalised industries don't work but calls for a state takeover of our banks is the last thing our economy needs. Financial services are probably Scotland's largest employer after tourism and certainly the provider of the best-paying jobs. Most of the customers of our financial institutions are outside Scotland. Does Rosie really think that any of those customers would remain if her plans were carried out? I don't expect that the SSP bank raid will ever take place but their ravings can certainly drive customers away and cost jobs.

Friday, 23 May 2003

The midge bites the dust

Scotland and her people are associated with many great inventions: television, radar, anaesthetics, penicillin, the telephone, logarithms, paraffin, pneumatic tyres and tarmac roads and, of course, Dolly the Sheep. Now, the greatest of all inventions is at hand:
The end is nigh for Scotland’s smallest, but most dreaded, pest - the midge. A new device, to be launched next week, promises to help eliminate the scourge of the tourism industry.

...The device, which looks like a tall patio heater, is powered by Calor gas and releases an odour similar to that given off by humans. It attracts the midges, which are then sucked into and killed by the system.

I demand hereditary peerages for the inventors.

Down with the neds?

Ever since Socialist MSP Rosie Kane made her newsworthy appearance in the Scottish parliament we have been breathlessly waiting for her first contribution to the Trotskyite revolution. Would she demand the immediate nationalisation of the whisky industry? Perhaps a call for the toiling masses to storm the Bank of Scotland? How we underestimated Ms Kane. She has identified a great evil in the land and has called for action:
Jack McConnell has been challenged to stop members of the Scottish Parliament using the word "ned" to describe young people in trouble with the law.

Rosie Kane, the newly elected Scottish Socialist MSP, says the word stigmatises young people and has called for the parliament to outlaw the use of it.

The First Minister's office tells us that:
The word "ned" is defined in recent editions of the Oxford English Dictionary as Scottish slang, referring to a "hooligan, thug or petty criminal".
But with all the experience of a former social worker, the new MSP
claims the slang expression, which is often believed to derive from the Scots expression "ne’er-do-weel" or "dae nae guid", is actually a term used in probation officers’ official reports for "non-educated delinquent".
So "ned" is official government terminology after all. I can foresee the parliamentary advocates of "social inclusion" insisting on a less robust term for their clients. Perhaps "ned" could be used to mean "Newly Elected Dimwit."

Scottish "Enterprise" under threat?

Tory leader David McLetchie has reshuffled his team of MSPs. I note that he has appointed Murdo Fraser to the position of party spokesman for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning. Mr Fraser has previously upset the government agency known (bizarrely) as Scottish Enterprise:
Two months ago Tory MSP Murdo Fraser called for Scottish Enterprise, Scotland's main economic development agency, to be abolished.

He said its annual budget, which is funded by the Scottish Executive, should be given to the private sector.

It looks as though the Tories will be taking a more rigorous line against Labour's policy of taking money from productive businesses to support unproductive ones. Good.

Thursday, 22 May 2003

Where's Mr Micawber when we need him?

I remember being frightened when I took on a £30,000 mortgage to buy my first property. The value of money has declined somewhat in the last twenty years but nevertheless this is really scary:
Research carried out in May 2001, when the study began, found that people who came to Citizens Advice Bureaux for help had an average debt of £10,700 but a monthly income of about £800, under half the national average. In Scotland, the average debt of people needing help was £8,140, while the average income was £730 a month. During May 2001 alone, 900 people who asked for help owed an average of more than 14 times their monthly income.
I read somewhere recently that the average woman aged between 20 and 30 owes some £10,000 excluding mortgage debt.

I wonder just how sound the banking system is. Have a look here if you want to get really worried.

Wednesday, 21 May 2003

A new voting system for local councils?

I have always vaguely assumed that the single transferable voting system would bring about the greatest degree of "proportionality" in elections. George Kerevan has given me a fuller fuller explanation of the actual mechanics of STV. I hadn't realised that the STV system was not necessarily good news for the smaller parties:
Although Tommy Sheridan’s SSP was second in 19 Glasgow council seats on 1 May, its chances of getting more than the odd member under STV is small. Expect semi-permanent Labour and Lib Dem coalitions, as at Holyrood.
Kerevan then goes on to explain why local Labour party activists are so opposed to a new voting system that may harm its smaller rivals like the SSP:
It works like this: a new STV ward will amalgamate four existing wards. Suppose two of the original four are middle-class wards where voter turnout is high. And suppose the other two are ghetto housing schemes with a low voter turnout. Under STV, the extra weight given to those middle-class votes might overwhelm the low turnout in the housing schemes. This will differentially affect Labour, which wins seats with tiny votes in the ghettos while the Lib Dems and Tories win by useless big majorities elsewhere.
I had never realised before that differential turnouts were so beneficial to Labour. Presumably this is one of the factors explaining why the Labour party is able to win 90% of the seats on Glasgow City Council with less than 50% of the vote.

Tuesday, 20 May 2003

A victory for capitalism

The shareholders of GlaxoSmithKline voted 50.72% to 49.28% against the proposed remuneration package of its Chief Executive. Jean-Pierre Garnier could have received up to £22 million were he to be removed from office. This is a famous victory for capitalism. Contrary to what the Glasgow Herald may think, the company did not suffer "a humiliating defeat at its annual general meeting." We need to understand some basic principles of company law.

A company is a legal entity in its own right. It can sue and it can be sued. It is a separate entity from both its shareholders and its directors. Nevertheless, the shareholders ultimately control the company through their votes at general meetings. Directors are appointed to manage the company for the benefit of the shareholders who can replace the directors if that is seen to be necessary. Last night's vote was not therefore a "humiliating defeat" for the company but for the board of directors. The capitalists have exerted their control over the company's agents and employees, the directors.

That is how it should be.

Monday, 19 May 2003

Enlightened Police

Some time ago I mentioned that the police forces at some UK airports had recognised the value of developing a friendly relationship with aviation enthusiasts. They realised that the aircraft spotters were more likely to notice any untoward behaviour around airports than most of the airports' own employees. Next week, the Champions League Final is being played in Manchester and you can see from this that an extraordinarily large number of extra flights are due at the city's airport. At most airports, the reaction would be to keep the public away. Not at Manchester:
Manchester Airport has been planning for the Champions League Final for almost 2 years.These plans are now at a mature state for handling huge numbers of additional passengers and aircraft movements.It is of course recognised that the event will also attract large numbers of Aviation Enthusiasts not only from Manchester but all over the UK and indeed Europe.

An aircraft movement rate of 55 movements per hour has been agreed throughout the day.Runway 2 will remain open during the normal lunch time closure period.Aircraft will be parked on Taxiways over the whole airfield. Manchester Airport will therefore cater for the needs of Aviation Enthusiasts by establishing special facilities which we trust will both be respected and enjoyed for this unique occasion:-

1.The Aviation Viewing Park. This is the best place for aviation enthusiasts to view and photograph visiting aircraft on Wednesday 28th May. Special opening times have now been agreed - The Aviation Viewing Park (located off the A538 Wilmslow Road,near the Romper Pub) will open from 06.30hrs to 21.30 hrs. A huge field adjoining the park is available for overflow car parking.3 additional fields located in the vicinity of the AVP will also be available subject to demand .Spectators will be directed to these areas if demand requires. Admission charges to the Aviation Viewing Park will not be increased for the day ie the low weekday rates will apply. 2 double deck open top busses will be located in the Viewing Park for photographers - a small admission charge will be made for entry. Exclusive photographic locations are being made available (Subject to Approval). A Special Shuttle bus will operate (The A1) from the Airport Rail Station to the Aviation Viewing Park :- Cost just £1 return. From 06.00 to 08.00 every 30 minutes from the rail station. From 08.00 to 18.00 every 15 minutes from the rail station. From 18.00 to 20.00 every 30 minutes from the rail station - last bus from the AVP departs at 20.15. Extra toilets,catering,ice cream,drinks and enthusiasts facilities including flight timetable and check lists will also be available from the AVP. Aircraft will route via Taxiway Alpha to enable photographic opportunities for enthusiasts from the AVP. Executive Jet parking will take place on Taxiways Bravo and Charlie opposite the Aviation Viewing Park. A car share scheme to The Aviation Viewing Park has been established -

2.Level 13 Multi Story Car Park Terminal 1. The Airports official Spectator Area will remain open together with The Aviation Shop and Refreshment Kiosk. Normal Car Parking rates will apply. Enthusiasts are requested to only utilise the above facilities. The Greater Manchester and Cheshire Police will strictly enforce restrictions at other areas around the airport.This is absolutely essential to ensure access for vehicular traffic associated with the Champions League Final and the Emergency Services is not prohibited. Please use and enjoy the special facilities which have been provided for you at The Aviation Viewing Park.

Well done the Greater Manchester Police for cooperating with the public. When the time comes for privatisation, they should be well able to cope.

But what happens when they say no?

Writing in the Edinburgh Evening News, Iain Duncan Smith demands a referendum on the forthcoming EU constitution. I agree.

This editorial in Scotland on Sunday, a sister paper of the News thinks otherwise:

That said, current calls for a referendum on Giscard’s proposals are seriously misplaced. Parliament has always approved treaties in the past - including the Single European Treaty and the Maastricht Treaty, both of which had far reaching effects. Additionally, everything that is in the current draft proposals is subject to detailed inter-governmental consultation.
The editorial writer goes on to proclaim that:
The UK cannot thrive outside the EU, yet it is hard to see currently how greater integration would add to our prosperity. Reform of key institutions is desperately needed, but at best Giscard d’Estaing’s work is a mere restatement of existing EU treaties, while at worst he may well be surreptitiously trying to extend its scope over national sovereignty.
Why can't the UK thrive outside the EU? All we need are sensible economic policies including sound money and unilateral free trade. The EU is moving in the opposite direction. The new constitution would also destroy most of our civil liberties. What does Mr Duncan Smith propose doing when the rest of the EU insists on our joining the Euro and signing up to the new constitution? Is he willing to say now that we would need to get out in such circumstances?

We need more like him

Tom Hunter is the outstanding Scottish entrepreneur of his generation - and I'm not saying that just because he comes from Ayrshire. He failed in his attempt to takeover Selfridges but still managed to come away with a £8 million profit from the deal. But not everyone is happy:
... the critics - and they are a sizeable minority - find some of the entrepreneurial evangelising a little too much to bear. They regard it as little more than an opportunity for Hunter and his apostles - other self-made tycoons such as Chris Gorman and Chris van der Kuyl - to massage their egos, and note how they always manage to finesse the black tie code with extravagantly-designed attire which means they stand out from everybody else.
Tom: keep evangelising
His friends say it is no exaggeration to describe him as passionate about enterprise and about Scotland. His commitment to changing the culture, to ridding Scotland of its historical dependency on others for support, is used at every opportunity as a lever to influence those in power.
Hunter, who started with two loans of £5,000, has given £10 million to promote entrepreneurship in Scotland. What have his critics achieved?

I once read that we should "never trust anyone under 40 with a Learjet." Tom's 42, so it's OK then.

Sunday, 18 May 2003

Whisky and Freedom

Some of us are being ripped off:
WHISKY drinkers are being swindled out of £4m a year by licensees who substitute cheap spirits for genuine Scottish malts or blends.
Industry officials are calling for bigger fines for offenders. As readers will no doubt have noticed, I am not one to argue for a large role for the state. Arguably, though, protection against theft and fraud is a legitimate government activity and so I have no real objection to fines for fraudsters. Nevertheless, I couldn't help noticing this:
"The problem is particularly acute in the UK, where the temptation to buy cheap smuggled whisky with no duty charge has been too great for many pub licensees."
And just why is the problem "particularly acute in the UK?" I imagine that it's because duties on whisky are much higher than elsewhere in Europe and thus this kind of trickery is worthwhile. It is ridiculous that I can buy a bottle of malt in Spain or Italy for much less than from a shop next to the distillery here in Scotland. Cut the tax, reduce the crime and help Scottish industry.

Friday, 16 May 2003

Tee in Brazil

I must say that I agree with Jackie over on Au Currant who writes of the proposed London Olympic bid:
I really don't want London to bid for the Olympics. I'm open to having my mind changed, but this whole situation just screams "Money pit!"
No doubt it wouldn't just be London's taxpayers who would be "asked" to contribute. But surely, you may think, we need the State to finance sporting developments. Not so. I was heartened to read this news from Brazil:
a grant of £50,000 from the Royal and Ancient (R&A) at St Andrews - taken from profits generated by the Open Championship - together with support from a US insurance company and the generosity of locals, has made the dream of transforming a cow pasture into a championship-standard golf course a reality.
I note that the local mayor "gifted" the land for the new golf course - how he obtained the land is not made clear - but the impetus for the new course has come from the private sector. The golfing authorities are willing to use their own money to invest in the game's future:
The R&A’s golf development secretary, Duncan Weir, said: "It’s good to see a new public course taking shape in South America and to know that R&A funding is helping in this way to encourage more and more people into golf."
I look forward to watching a young Brazilian winning the British Open at St Andrews. As long as Scotland can beat Brazil at football of course.

Thursday, 15 May 2003

A bureaucrat's life

I have recently sent my company's P35(2002) (Employer's Annual Return) form to the Inland Revenue. Along with this, I sent Form P14(Manual)(2002-03) - in duplicate - making sure that all of my staff (i.e. myself) received a Form P60(2002-03). Penalties would be charged "automatically" if I had been late. I also had to formally confirm to the Collector of Taxes that all company taxes had been paid even though they were already up-to-date. Now, I have to send off the P11D(b)(2003)Man form. Failure to send this on time would render me liable to "automatic" penalties and possible prosecution. Earlier in the year I submitted my Form 363s (Annual Return) to Companies House (with a cheque for £15) and later in the year I shall have to send in my Annual Accounts or face prosecution. I still have the Form CT600(2002)Version 1 to look forward to.

How much simpler life would be if I became a politician:

...the Scottish Socialists have fallen foul of the election watchdog by failing to submit on time their financial returns, detailing their donations.

According to the Electoral Commission, the maximum punishment for this breach is a £5000 fine and a year in jail. However, the Glasgow MSP might not have to pack his toothbrush just yet as the commission looks likely to help out the small political parties, which by law have to spend time and money on filling out all the forms, even though they have no donations to declare.

One would think that with Colin Fox, newly elected MSP, being a qualified accountant, the comrades would be able to keep their paperwork in order. No problem - they won't face the "automatic" penalties that apply to businesspeople:
....a spokeswoman told The Herald so far no party had been prosecuted by the authorities and legal action would only be taken if a party "systematically" breached the rules. She added a letter had gone off to Mr Sheridan, asking him why his party had failed to make a return.
Life's a laugh, isn't it?

Advertising socialism

A photography student from Edinburgh College of Art has placed an anti-capitalism poster on a city billboard:
On a billboard in Dalry Road, an advertisement for John Lewis’ newly-refurbished store in the St James Centre has been replaced by a massive poster denouncing capitalism.
Local politicians are upset about "irresponsible, cynical and illegal behaviour" and "especially because it is being done in such a public way". I would be more impressed if the politicians were to point out that capitalism is the only moral system and that socialism, its alternative, was responsible for the murder of 100 million of our fellow human beings in the last century.

We also need to consider this:

The Edinburgh College of Art photography student said he was driven to carry out his expensive fly-posting campaign after studying capitalism at college.
I think that it is highly unlikely that the taxpayer-supported Mr Wellburn "studied capitalism" at college. Had he done so, he would not have damaged other people's property, nor would he hold his medieval beliefs.

It is wonderfully ironic to remember that John Lewis is a workers' co-operative.

Wednesday, 14 May 2003

Bring back Ernest Bevin

Today's Times tells us that:
Ernest Bevin, probably the most illustrious Labour Foreign Secretary, once explained that his policy objective was “to take a ticket at Victoria Station and go anywhere I damn well please”.
A fine policy. But what of today's Labour-run Foreign Office? Well, how about this?
The Foreign Office has warned Celtic supporters not to travel to Seville unless they have tickets for next Wednesday's Uefa Cup Final.

It has posted a special warning on its travel advice service telling fans to stay away from the Spanish city unless they already have a match ticket and accommodation reserved.

Half of the 50,000 Celtic fans going to Seville know that they don't have tickets. They know that they may not find accommodation. But they still want to be in town for the club's biggest game for over thirty years, and why not? Of course they should "respect Spanish laws and customs and follow, immediately, any instructions from the authorities", but do we really need highly paid British bureaucrats to tell them? Why can't we take a ticket and go wherever we damn well please?

Bring back Ernest Bevin.

(Disclosure: I am a Kilmarnock fan.)

Tuesday, 13 May 2003

Socialist salaries

I’ve received so many comments about Ms Kane that I thought another blog was in order.

The SSP website states that:

As things stand, back-bench MSPs are paid £48,000 while ministers are paid between £90,000 and £140,000. In contrast, more than 95 per cent of Scottish workers earn below £43,000 and 80 per cent of Scottish workers earn less than £27,000.

In line with the constitution of the party, all SSP candidates have pledged to live, if elected, on no more than the average salary of a skilled, professional Scottish worker.

The actual figure will be based on statistics supplied by the Scottish Parliament, covering earnings for professional, technical and craft occupations. In 2001, the average gross earnings across these categories worked out at £24,676 a year.

SSP candidates have pledged total transparency in all financial affairs, with details of all additional income, including expenses, published on the party's website.

All SSP candidates pledge to:
* Live on no more than the average professional/technical/craft wage. Concretely, that means that SSP MSPs will donate approximately half their salaries to help the fight for socialism in Scotland.
* Publish details of all expenses and how they have been spent.

Rosie thought that she would be paying £2,000 tax on her £48,000 gross pay. I’ve done a quick calculation and I reckon she’ll actually be paying tax and national insurance contributions totalling £14,809 PA, giving her a net salary of £33,191. So this new MSP has just found out that the middle class “fat cats” that the SSP needs to fund their mad-cap schemes already pay more than seven times as much tax as she thought.

Again, the much-quoted SSP policy of giving up half of their salary isn’t quite what it seems. The party states that the “average salary of a skilled, professional Scottish worker” was £24,676 in 2001. Assuming a 3% rise each year, we get £26,179 in 2003. The salary given back to the party would therefore be £21,821 on a gross basis – a “sacrifice” of some 45%.

But it doesn’t end there. Surely the idea is that the SSP MSPs should have the same standard of living as a skilled worker. The target worker on £26,179 gross receives £19,296 net of tax and NI and Rosie should therefore give £13,895 of her net salary to the party (£33,191 less £19,296), a “sacrifice” of just under 42%. The proportionality of the tax system causes the sacrifice to be smaller on a net-of-tax basis.

So far, I can’t see any of the details of Mr Sheridan’s expenses on the SSP website. I look forward to reading them. It would be interesting for an MSP of another party to ask the comrades to declare to the parliament that they will give up 42% (or 50%!) of their pensions and relocation grants when they return to the ranks of the skilled workforce or, more likely, to continue as tax-consumers of another kind.

Incidentally, Colin Fox, the new SSP MSP whom I think I saw in my local pub yesterday, is a qualified accountant. We can surely rely on him to keep the party's finances in order.

Police protection

An electrician used his screwdriver to stab a man who was trying to rob him. Apparently, the attacker ran off with the screwdriver "lodged in his body". Well done Mr Electrician, I say. And what is the police reaction?
Whilst we would naturally be keen to trace this man in connection with the crime he is alleged to have tried to carry out, our more important priority at the moment must be to trace him to ensure that he is not seriously injured.

"The workman reacted instinctively but unfortunately he may have caused the robber quite a damaging injury and we believe the man may require urgent treatment."

So the most important priority for the police is the health of the knife-wielding criminal not his arrest and removal from society. The police say that:
"This is a very unusual case where the original culprit has come off worst.
It's a "very unusual case" because the political class has made it virtually impossible for us to defend ourselves and they have reduced the police to a politically correct branch of the social services. Let's make the electrician Chief Constable of the Lothian and Borders Police force.

Monday, 12 May 2003

All I wanted was a quiet drink

I paid a short visit to one of my favourite pubs in Edinburgh today. On Monday lunchtime it would surely be quiet. But no - the two other customers were discussing politics. Loudly. The moderate one was perhaps a little to the left of Tony Blair. The other was spouting off about George Bush....International Capitalism....Donald Rumsfeld....Andrew Neil (Editor-in-chief of the Scotsman)....Margaret Thatcher....Donald Rumsfeld again...."Fat Cat" businessmen etc. etc. etc. Unless he has a double (in appearance and politics) it was none other than Colin Fox, new Scottish Socialist MSP. Is there no escape from them?

Sunday, 11 May 2003

A bourgeois dissents

Is Joyce McMillan the silliest woman in Scotland? So often, her articles start well, but you just know that it's only a matter of time before her instinctive establishment-leftism kicks in. This week she gets straight to the point for apparently we have enjoyed:
a vintage week for all the harrumphers, grunters, whey-faced control-freaks, Gradgrind miserabilists and establishment stuffed shirts of the current British political scene.
Joyce is of course talking about the swearing-in of new Scottish Socialist MSP Rosie Kane who made her parliamentary debut in blue denims and an off-the-shoulder blouse. The "sensible" Joyce then defends the outgoing Presiding Officer, Sir David Steel, from nonsensical charges of sexism (Sir David had a wee peek at Rosie), and puts the Education Secretary (though not of Scotland), Charles Clarke, in his place for his cretinous attack on universities. So far, so good. But then we get the other Joyce who proclaims that the appearance of Ms Kane and her fellow socialists is seen as a threat by some of us:
Of course, it is more difficult to remain open to debate and change in relatively wealthy and privileged societies, where millions of people have a great deal to lose, and a strong vested interest in defending the system - just or unjust - that delivered their prosperity.

But the sheer clammed-up misery of that kind of bourgeois life - always afraid of the mob, always terrified of dispossession, always enraged by insubordination and dissent, always dreaming up ever more obnoxious and untenable justifications for our own privileged position - should be enough to make any human being with a spark of moral or intellectual vitality yearn for alternative.

I am sufficiently "bourgeois" to think that Ms Kane owed it to her electorate to smarten-up a bit for her first parliamentary appearance - even her boss, Tommy Sheridan, understands that. What actually worries me, though, about Ms Kane and her friends is not their "insubordination" and "dissent" but that they really do plan to "dispossess" those of us who have earned our money fair-and-square and who do not consider ourselves "privileged" for having done so. Let me record my own "dissent" from the news that the 41-year-old Ms Kane has become a £48,000 a year tax-consumer who has only read five books in her life. And yes, one of them is Michael Moore's Stupid White Men.

Saturday, 10 May 2003

We are not amused

The Scotsman's Bill Jamieson is concerned about some of the new members of the Scottish Parliament:
If MSPs continue to behave in Parliament as they did on Wednesday, it will not be long before the snigger turns to a sneer. If this is the way the Scottish Parliament means to go on - a dress-down disco freak show dominated by cranks, Trotskyists, show-offs, misfits, quixotic Greens, class-war redistributionists and ranters - then this Parliament and its fantastical £400 million building will swell those most corrosive and destructive emotions in politics: ridicule and contempt. And for that, a whirlwind will be reaped. So laugh our heads off while we can. This joke will soon turn sour.
Jamieson goes on to say that the Scottish economy is "losing ground faster than the rest of the UK" but, as Andrew Duffin has pointed out to me, the rest of the UK is actually gaining ground economically, thus making the Labour/Lib Dem coalition's record even more shameful. Jamieson writes that:
Those who write off any prospect of a centre-right renaissance in Scotland have only to consider these two developments and the backlash that is likely to follow from them. It should encourage an opposition coalition that would draw a firm line against the untrammelled growth of government and in regulation, and turn to classical liberalism for a new approach to devolution.
I think that is correct. There will be a backlash against the socialist regime and a turn to real liberalism. Let it start now.

Friday, 9 May 2003


Like Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen airports, Prestwick used to be owned by the nationalised British Airports Authority. The Conservatives privatised BAA and the new organisation is a great improvement on the previous state-owned dinosaur. In Scotland, though, BAA wanted to get rid of Prestwick after it lost the transatlantic monopoly and seemingly faced closure. A consortium of local businessmen acquired the airport in 1992 and it has prospered ever since. Now, passenger numbers are booming:
April broke all previous records for the Ayrshire airport, with passenger numbers up 25.3 per cent on April last year, with more than 5,500 passengers using the airport every day.

Wilson added: "We now operate more direct scheduled services to European destinations than Glasgow and Edinburgh airports put together."

I grew up in Prestwick and am heartened by the way that the airport has been successfully turned around. Edinburgh and Glasgow remain under BAA control. It would probably help the two cities if the same company did not own both airports.

Longer hours for politicians?

Jack McConnell wants MSPs to work longer hours:
the First Minister said: "I believe that the performance of the parliament as a whole would be enhanced through greater spontaneity, more time for back-bench speeches and some flexibility in, or an extension to, the working hours of the parliament."
McConnell is worried about the "status and credibility" of the Scottish Parliament. If MSPs persist in acting stupidly, longer hours will make them less credible, not more. Our government needs to do only two things: protect us against aggressors (criminal law) and ensure that we keep agreements (civil law). Working longer hours so as to liberate goldfish will not bring politicians more respect.

Thursday, 8 May 2003

NHS reforms: but not in Scotland

Tony Blair got his way over foundation hospitals in the House of Commons vote. But health is a devolved responsibility of the Scottish parliament and the changes will not apply here:
By setting NHS hospitals free from direct state control and bringing in a new layer of private clinics, England is modernising. By denying this reform on ideological grounds, Scotland is staying in the dark ages.

This is understood and even welcomed in London. "You never notice a suntan until you look under your watchstrap. And if we want to see how much progress we’re making, we’ll just look at Scotland," said one MP in the lobby yesterday.

Scotland gets higher per-capita NHS expenditure than England without even the meagre reforms that are happening down south. Eventually people here will see the light and I hope that they blame our political class for the unnecessary suffering caused by our unreformed health service.

Reform transport now

We certainly can't sort out transport congestion without some form of road pricing. The Road Haulage Association may feel that they are the "victims of discrimination". It's impossible to know until we privatise the whole transport system, including roads. Only then will we know whether lorries are paying a fair price for access to roads or indeed whether railways are profitable.

The Scottish Tories have opposed the planned introduction of congestion charges in Edinburgh. Labour's proposals for the city may not have been well thought out but road pricing is a policy that free market politicians should support in principle.

Our greatest building

Scotland's new parliamentarians are making a lot of noise about using taxpayers' money to "improve" our transport system. The private sector seems to have been able to do the job quite well 100 years ago:

Wednesday, 7 May 2003

A Tory view on the Scottish election

Here is an interesting commentary from the Tory candidate for the Western Isles at the last Westminster election. Thanks to Peter Cuthbertson for this link.

Tuesday, 6 May 2003

What do we want? Voters' rights

Brian Meek, an Edinburgh Conservative councillor, wants to make it easier to vote. Mr Meek writes:
If the Scottish Executive does nothing else in the next four years it should immediately establish a committee or commission to examine how we can streamline the whole voting system. Vast numbers of people now have access to computers and should be encouraged to vote electronically. Those who do not must be given the option of postal voting.
I'm not so sure about this. As others have pointed out, 90-year-old ladies are willing to trudge through the rain to cast their votes. Some Edinburgh students were reported as not even knowing that an election was being held. Students! Why should we make it easier for those who can't be bothered? Someone recently suggested that those who miss one vote should be barred from taking part in the next one. That seems reasonable to me.

More fundamentally, we should look at who should be allowed to vote. I propose that voting be limited to those who pay for government. Only taxpayers should be allowed to vote. Tax-consumers - those who draw state benefits or salaries - should be disenfranchised. Why should group A be allowed to pick the pockets of group B?

Green power struggle

The cuddly Greens may kick upstairs Robin Harper, until recently their sole MSP. Mr Harper may become a deputy presiding officer in the Scottish parliament. And why might the Green party do this?
Greens are notoriously touchy about titles and hierarchy
The party's national convenor, now also an MSP, wants Harper's job. Titles! Hierarchy! They'll be after nuclear power next.

How about saying nothing?

Spokesmen for Scotland's business community have issued a manifesto:
SCOTLAND’S main business organisations have issued a collective manifesto of demands to First Minister Jack McConnell, after ruling he delivered nothing but idle words during the first four-year term of the Scottish Parliament.

In an unprecedented move, CBI Scotland, the Scottish Council for Development & Industry, the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, Scottish Financial Enterprise and the Institute of Directors have put their demands together in a document, insisting that the Executive has failed to ignite or support the economy and the business community.

Now, I realise that business is mightily affected by what governments get up to, but what good will come of issuing a manifesto? There is no reason to think that another Labour/Liberal Democrat coalition will be any more business friendly than the outgoing government. Instead of issuing manifestos I wonder what would happen if business leaders simply ignored the government and got on with, well, business. Don't talk to politicians, don't meet them, don't write to them and don't comment about them. Just ignore them. It's worth a try, isn't it?

Monday, 5 May 2003

How the Tories can do better

Katie Grant calls on the Scottish Tories to be brave:
David McLetchie’s Tories have benefited from protest votes and abstentions. By the time of the next election, the independents will have made their mark and the firebrands in the SSP will have spent four years persuading the youth vote that all the other parties are staid, middle-aged and out of touch. If the youth vote turn out for the SSP, goodbye Scotland.

The way for the Tories to scupper this is to be passionate, principled and radical. I hope that they can do it, but I am not holding my breath.

Certainly we can expect nothing exciting from Labour or the Liberal Democrats. The SNP may well tear itself apart with many of its leftist activists being tempted to switch to the SSP, which appears to be more fundamentalist on the independence question. The problem is, though, the SNP's voters are typically "small c" conservatives in the rural areas and small towns that used to held by the Tories. If the Conservatives would support Scottish fiscal autonomy within the UK, they could well get back many of the voters lost to the nationalists over the past 30 years. To attract younger voters, the Tories need to offer a policy of lower tax and less red tape coupled with a parallel reduction of nanny-state interference in social matters.

Left turn?

As a former Marxist himself, George Kerevan understands only too well what has happened:
But having elected a phalanx of dedicated revolutionary Marxists and anti-capitalists into Holyrood, you dear voters are going to have to live with the consequences.
And will that be a socialist paradise funded by high taxation?
Thus Tommy always wants to soak "the rich". Forget the fact the number of millionaires in Scotland is tiny because our economy is imploding. Forget the fact that Scotland already has the biggest state sector in Europe. Forget the fact that Tommy wants to tax not millionaires but the professional middle classes, such as doctors, promoted teachers and university lecturers on whom the public services depend.
This is why we must have fiscal autonomy so that it becomes absolutely clear who are the taxpayers and who are the tax-consumers in the new Scotland. The two thirds of Scots who are homeowners have no class interest in the madness of the SSP. Let's make this apparent before it is too late.

Mr Kerevan points out that:

The SSP has not only Sheridan’s faction, but Tariq Ali’s old International Marxist Group (now called the ISG). Then there is the larger Socialist Workers Party, which provides a lot of the SSP strength in the Edinburgh area. If you voted for the SSP thinking they were supporters of Scottish independence, think on this. The ISG is part of the Fourth International and under its external control from Paris. The SWP takes its orders from a political committee in London.
Controlled from London, indeed! May I offer some advice to the Scottish Conservatives? The Scottish Nationalists used to annoy the hell out of Scotland's ruling party by always referring to them (correctly) as "London Labour". The Tories should start describing the Sheridan mob as the "London SSP".

Sunday, 4 May 2003

No mandate for Scottish Labour?

As always, I enjoyed reading Gerald Warner's column in Scotland on Sunday. The low turnout of 49% means that:
On the first poll, the nationwide constituency vote, the Scottish Labour Party - so long regarded as the unassailable monolith of hegemonial power - received 659,879 votes. In an electorate of just under four million, that represents some 16.7%.
What about the Lab/Lib Dem coalition as a whole?
Again, look at the figures for the Liberal Democrats: they took 286,150 votes. Added to Labour’s tally, the coalition won a grand total of 946,029 votes - short of the one million mark. Yet, when more than a million Scots voted in an independent referendum to retain Section 28, which prohibited promotion of homosexuality in schools, the Executive and MSPs derided that turnout as unrepresentative. In just four years, Holyrood arrogance and folly has created a situation in which Section 28 commands more public support than the combined Labour and Liberal parties.
So the new government will represent half of those who voted and a mere quarter of the total Scottish electorate. A long period of humility is in order; let's say about four years.

Saturday, 3 May 2003

Tommy Sheridan: the new George Bush

Andrew Duffin pointed me to this quote from the Scotsman:
Mr Sheridan told cheering supporters: "What’s happened tonight in Scotland is that a new political force has been formed - and that force believes that the wealth of Scotland belongs to the people of Scotland."
As Andrew says:
Too right it does, mate. The people. Probably not what he really meant.
No. Tommy means the state and also that the state c'est moi. I watched the Scottish Socialist Party leader on television in the early hours of Friday. In the same paragraph he maintained that "Scotland was a rich country" and that the rich could be squeezed, but also that "Scotland was a poor country." The BBC interviewer didn't pick up on this of course - they were far more interested in the threat from the "right-wing" British National Party than from the far more dangerous SSP.

Tommy claimed that taxing the rich and giving to the poor would increase total national wealth because "the poor" have a greater propensity to spend than "the fat cats" who merely "sit on" their money. Oh dear. First, the cats don't keep the money under their beds - it is invested. Second, as the Austrian School explains, increased national wealth comes from a continuous investment in capital goods, not from a US-style consumer spending boom like that which has cost the dollar 30% of its value in the last 18 months.

Friday, 2 May 2003

Notes made during the night

BBC Scotland's political reporter, Brian Taylor, said that the people were totally scunnered with party politics. They were looking for alternatives.

The pundits said that the party leaders were increasing their own personal votes as a result of their high-profiles (the "halo" effect). But Jim Wallace, the Lib Dem leader, promptly lost half his vote from last time, although he did manage to retain his seat. Did Jim (the outgoing Justice Minister) suffer from a perceived softness on crime?

How was Tory leader David McLetchie able to (surprisingly?) win the first-past-the-post seat of Edinburgh Pentlands, thus overthrowing a senior Labour cabinet minister? (McLetchie had been previously elected as a "list" MSP.)
(a) He has performed well as Tory leader but was unknown four years ago?
(b) He fought against the proposed Edinburgh road congestion charge, which would have especially affected people in Pentlands?
(c) The proposed increase in top-band council taxes would hit hard in Pentlands?
(d) He drinks pints of beer and supports Heart of Midlothian?

Why, at 3am, did the television "experts" still think it likely that the Tories would get fewer seats than the Scottish Socialists although I could see from the declared results that such an outcome was extremely unlikely? (Actual: Tories 18, SSP 6)

Report from a tired blogger

The final results of the Scottish parliamentary election are in after a long wait for the Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale constituency (held by the Lib Dems) and, consequently, the South of Scotland regional list announcement
Conservatives 18 seats (down 1, but two of their previous 19 MSPs had defected at the last minute to the Scottish People's Alliance and failed to get re-elected)
Greens 7 seats (up 6)
Labour 50 seats (down 5)
Liberal Democrat 17 seats (no change)
Scottish Socialists 6 seats (up 5)
Scottish Nationalists 27 seats (down 6)
Others 4 seats (up 1)

The big winners, then, are the Greens and the (Marxist) Scottish Socialists with Labour and the SNP being the main losers, although Labour still has a huge block of seats and will lead the new government.

Previously, the 3 "others" were:

Dennis Canavan (Falkirk West), formerly a left-wing Labour MP for the constituency who wasn't selected to fight the seat at the previous (and first) election for the Scottish parliament but who then fought as an independent and won. He is back in with a big majority.

Margo McDonald (Lothian Region list), previously elected as a Nationalist but fell out with the party and became an independent. Now re-elected as such following a very high-profile campaign against the runaway costs of the new parliament building.

Dorothy-Grace Elder (Glasgow Regional list) also fell out with the Nationalists and did not stand this time.

The two new "others" are
John Swinburne (Central Region list) of the Scottish Senior Citizens Unity Party

Dr Jean Turner (Strathkelvin and Bearsden), a retired GP fighting to keep a local hospital open.

More to follow.

Thursday, 1 May 2003


Patrick Crozier has kindly asked me to contribute articles for his Transport Blog. After posting my second piece today, I noticed that there is a category on the site named Alistair Darling, the Secretary of State for Transport in the Labour government and a gentleman who just happens to be my Westminster MP. Today I had the opportunity to vote for a new Member of the Scottish Parliament for Mr Darling's Edinburgh Central constituency. So impressed was I with Mr Darling that I went out and voted for the opposition.

Scottish business success - destroyed by politicians

The financial services industry is the most important in Scotland. It was reported yesterday that we are now the second largest financial centre in Europe. Now, though, the Royal Bank of Scotland is playing down its Scottish identity. The Royal's boss said that:
People associate Scotland with whisky, tartan, bagpipes, and golf. People pigeonhole us, and that was pretty accurate up until a few years ago.
I don't think that's the real reason for the change. How about this comment:
One Scottish insurance executive was quoted: "Scottish in the past has been sold to the consumer as denoting assiduous accumulators of wealth. There was a glow associated with investing with Scottish money managers. Now the customer may well see Scottish as meaning small-minded, governed differently, parochial, anti-English and losers. The brand is no longer associated with success."
How I hate what our the socialist political class has done to this country.