Sunday, 31 August 2003

Do they really want this brand image?

One of the Scottish Socialist Party leaders is calling for an independence convention:
Alan McCombes, national policy co-ordinator of the SSP, has produced a 5000-word policy document - to be debated on Sunday at the SSP's national council - outlining the socialists' proposed strategy for hastening independence. Mr McCombes argues the most obvious vehicle is a convention based on the Scottish constitutional convention of the 1990s which heralded devolution.

It would be encouraged by the fact there are more MSPs in favour of it now than before the May 1 elections, despite the SNP's disappointing showing.

I am probably not the only one to be rather concerned about any cooperation between the SSP and SNP. The Herald conveniently summarises the difference between the two parties:
SNP

Nationalist first and (mostly) left-of-centre second.

Wants a referendum for independence within three years of a Holyrood majority.

Pro-EU and pro-single currency.

Favours a slimmed down monarchy although some members are republicans.

SSP

Socialist first and supports independence second.

Wants a referendum immediately, assuming the convention has already agreed a constitution for immediate implementation.

Anti-euro but would remain in an anti-big business and more democratic "people's Europe".

Avowedly republican.

So one of them is "Nationalist first" and the other "Socialist first". Oh dear. I seem to recall that putting nationalism and socialism together can lead to just a little bit of trouble.

Saturday, 30 August 2003

Harry Potter Agus Clach An Fheallsanaich

Glasgow's Gaelic School is expanding:
The school, opened in 1999 with a roll of 105, now has 162 pupils. The school is unique in Scotland as pupils are immersed in Gaelic from the minute they walk through the gates.
I am certainly not one of those who think that all Scots should be made to learn Gaelic but I admire what this school is achieving:
By the end of the year, most will be fluent in the Scotland’s native tongue.

As pupils progress through school, English is integrated into the curriculum to ensure that the children are prepared for the rigours of secondary education, where Gaelic is continued in key subjects.

Fluent by the end of Primary One and able to read Harry Potter in Gaelic! I wish that I had been taught in one of the main continental languages for the first year at school and had become fluent. Of course nowadays I would want to learn Mandarin:


Thursday, 28 August 2003

Socialist economics

We have here some interesting statistics on expenditure by the smaller parties during the recent Scottish election:
The Electoral Commission figures also give a useful indication as to how much money is needed to secure the election of an MSP. But the statistics do show that some parties were more economical than others.

The Liberal Democrats spent £130,358 on the campaign. This brought them a return of 17 MSPs and 286,150 first-past-the-post votes, the equivalent of £7,668 per MSP and 45p per vote.

The Scottish Green Party spent £65,852 on the election campaign and won seven seats. That represents £9,407 per MSP and 51p per vote.

The Scottish Socialists were not quite as economical, spending £74,361 on the campaign and winning six seats at £12,393 per MSP and 56p per vote.

The most effective small party was the Senior Citizens Unity Party, which contested just two regions and had one of its candidates, John Swinburne, elected, all for an investment of just £3,558 - the equivalent of £3,558 per MSP and a miserly 16p per vote.

This article was drawn to my attention by S Dubh who points out:
Even in getting their candidates elected to the Scottish Parliament, the Greens and crypto-Trotskyite "Scottish Socialists" manage to come top in having spent the most per vote cast for them.

Surely a pertinent thought for those misguided or naive enough to vote for them, although I'm not optimistic on the matter.

That's quite correct. I note that SSP leader Tommy Sheridan has been sent to jail for a week because he refused to pay a fine. Tory MSP, Bill Aitken, rightly complains about the waste of public money. The fine (plus the cost of his prosecution) should have been deducted from Sheridan's parliamentary salary. Instead, we taxpayers get to pay for Sheridan's wages and for his incarceration.

How the EU defines fairness

It looks as if Ryanair's services from Scotland to France and Belgium are under threat:
Two destinations from the airline's Scottish base at Prestwick could be at risk if established carriers or airports succeed in forcing a European Commission crackdown.

Earlier this week, the company was forced to withdraw its Stansted-Strasbourg route - from September 24 - after an Air France subsidiary obtained a ruling that the French airport had improperly used public funds to give incentives to Ryanair worth nearly £1m.

Now, I agree that airports shouldn't be using taxpayers' money to attract new operators but it's a bit of a cheek for Air France to be complaining. Just how much "public" money has been spent bailing out the French airline over the last several decades? Let's have a really level playing field with no subsidies to airports or airlines. I'd put my money on Ryanair, not Air France, as the winner.

Tuesday, 26 August 2003

It's the culture, stupid

One of the most interesting talks at the Book Festival last week was given by Dr Carol Craig, author of The Scots' Crisis of Confidence. Many Scottish politicians now accept that we are woefully undersupplied with entrepreneurs and that the cause needs to be found. Dr Craig believes that Scotland remains strongly influenced by the country’s Calvinist past – with both positive and negative results. Benefits include an enduring respect for education, a love of logic and principles and an individual sense of mission. But there is a downside that partly explains the book's listing of what Craig sees as “the most important barriers to the development of Scottish self-confidence" and hence entrepreneurship:
A strong tendency to criticise and focus on what is wrong with something rather than to praise, appreciate or be positive.

An overwhelming sense that people’s behaviour can be judged right or wrong, worthwhile or useless.

A prevailing notion that if anyone makes a mistake or does anything wrong, no excuses will be permitted in their defence and that they should be blamed and criticised for their misdemeanours.

An underdeveloped sense of privacy: everything you do in life could be the focus of others’ criticism and censure.

A general belief that you are not OK just as you are and that you must compete and prove your worth.

A strong sense of egalitarian values which stress that no one is more important than anyone else and a culture where people are routinely put down if they are seen to get above themselves.

A prevailing belief that it is better if people do not like themselves too much.

A strong sense that if you question Scottish values or step outside conventional behaviour or opinions your very right to call yourself “Scottish” may be under threat.

Dr Craig tells us that: "We must cease the endless quest for Scottishness and renounce our previous obsession with Scottish identity.... In place of the quest for Scottish identity we need a quest for individual identity. We need to encourage individual Scots to go forth and be themselves."

At most, only twenty percent of Scotland's problems are amenable to political solutions, we were told at the talk. The rest depends on a national culture that needs to be more individualistic. Perhaps everything is not the fault of the politicians.

Monday, 25 August 2003

I want my share

The saga of Scotland's right to buy legislation continues. As with all such matters, we can't depend on property owners to put up a principled defence of their rights:
Although none object to community ownership, they question the use of public funds for the First Minister’s plans.
But the use of public funds is at the heart of "community ownership". There has always been a "right to buy" for anyone with the necessary cash whenever an owner willingly puts his property on the market. No legislation was necessary to maintain that right.

Now, it is proposed to extend the phoney rights:

Jack McConnell, the First Minister, unveiled proposals to widen opportunities under the right-to-buy scheme, from settlements of 3,000 people to those of 10,000. This would mean an extra 117 communities being given first refusal on buying land if the owner puts it up for sale.

The entire Highlands and Islands outside Inverness would qualify, with places such as Stornoway, Thurso and Oban all able to mount a bid to buy land up for sale...

...He also hinted that the Scottish Land Fund, which was set up to help buy-outs, will be increased in line with demand for future takeovers. The fund was set up in 2001 with £10 million which has almost been spent, although a £5 million top-up was announced recently.

Mr McConnell added: "The budget is strong and has managed to maintain the buy-outs so far. We are committed to seeing this through."

McConnell talks about removing "the barriers to economic and social growth." The biggest barrier to such growth is uncertainty of property rights. If McConnell doesn't understand that he should visit Zimbabwe.

Let's look on the bright side, though. When this legislation is extended to the Lowlands, the Freedom and Whisky "community" will demand its share of public funding. I plan to live in Edinburgh Castle.

Sunday, 24 August 2003

Into the lioness’s den

Yesterday afternoon I paid my latest visit to the Edinburgh Book Festival. The speaker was none other than that doyenne of politically correct thinking, Polly Toynbee. Her audience was predominantly young to middle aged, middle class, female, English and on her side. No economically illiterate comment went without applause. She wanted the minimum wage level increased to the level of the “more civilised” countries elsewhere in Europe. It was a pity though, said Polly, that unemployment was a bit high on the continent! The higher “minimum wage” in places like France and Germany means, of course, that for many the actual wage is zero.

Polly said that inheritance tax “gives to those who have”! A slip of the tongue, perhaps? She told us of when she had been covering George Bush’s election campaign and he had called for the “abolition of the death penalty”. A scoop, thought Polly. But no. GWB meant that he wanted to abolish America’s inheritance tax. Polly proclaimed to the audience: “Imagine calling inheritance tax ‘the death penalty.’” “But it is,” I shouted out. Four hundred angry leftists stared at me.

On and on she went. Prices in supermarkets are similar because “there is an unspoken cartel.” “Shouldn’t companies be run from the bottom up?” asked a questioner. Polly agreed. There is a “continuum of western countries that runs from high tax Sweden to low tax America.” Guess which one met with Polly’s approval? I waved my hand to point out that Scotland, not Sweden, has the highest level of state expenditure per-capita in Europe and that Sweden is now poorer than Mississippi. The chairwoman, Ruth Wishart, Scotland’s own Polly Toynbee, didn’t pick me to speak: my views on inheritance tax had probably put me beyond the pale. As I left, a young man turned to me saying, “Wasn’t that fantastic?” "Yes," I agreed. “It’s not every day that we get to hear the silliest woman in the country.”

Friday, 22 August 2003

Wool standard

I have hitherto been a supporter of the gold standard. Today I note that the price of gold has fallen somewhat:
GOLD prices eased yesterday as the market kept half an eye on the flailing euro, which fell more than 1 per cent against the dollar, but the price was still underpinned by Middle East tension.
So gold has lost a little of its value. What can replace it? I have found the answer:
PUT the carving knife back in the block, screw the top back on the mint sauce bottle, Tophill Joe is one little lamb whose long-term future looks secure.

The Scottish farming syndicate which purchased the six-month old Texel ram lamb at auction in Lanark yesterday did not pay a world record-breaking £128,100 just to turn the youngster into lamb chops. TJ can look forward to a tupper's life from now on.

So, rather than investing in Krugerrands, these Scottish farmers have seen the future and the future is woollen:
The five farmers who clubbed together to buy the animal for breeding purposes clearly decided that they might as well be hung for a lamb as a sheep.

Colin Mair, Willie Knox, Sandy Lee, and Margaret Lyon, all from Aberdeenshire, and Robert Forsyth from Wigtonshire, officially paid out 122,000 guineas (traditionally, pedigree sheep are sold in the antiquated currency). Mr Forsyth said: "We decided on Wednesday night that this was the one we wanted. We were prepared to go as far as £100,000, but when you see a sheep like this you never know."

To think that with just 3,122 lambs you could buy yourself a Scottish parliament building.

Business bullshit

Accountants Ernst & Young are combining their Scottish and Northern Irish operations with those based in Leeds. I have no idea whether this change makes sense or not and it is of course up to E&Y to decide such matters. The managing partner in Scotland states:
"In terms of running Scotland, in terms of clients and marketing, I am still running all of that. The only difference is my boss is in Leeds and not London."

He added: "This is good news for our people and our clients in the region."

So Ernst & Young's "people" can be happy, can't they?

Well, perhaps not:

A handful of jobs will be lost in Glasgow as the region consolidates financial processing at its Newcastle office.
Why do some business people act so crassly? The "handful" of people "let go" will rightly be angry at this kind of talk. It's much better to be honest about the changes and cut out the managerial bullshit. This is why some people are attracted to socialism.

Thursday, 21 August 2003

Is taxation moral?

Last Friday there was an extraordinary article in the business section of The Scotsman

Martyn Jones is a tax partner with a well-known firm of Scottish lawyers. He writes:

The assertion that there are social needs that would not be met without taxes is also questionable.
How very true.

Mr Jones's article is a critique of an attack by the chairman of the Inland Revenue on tax avoidance. Unlike tax evasion (breaking the tax law), tax avoidance (optimising one's tax affairs within the law) is perfectly legal. It is quite outrageous that the head of the Revenue has spoken out against those who operate within the tax laws. But note the quote above from Mr Jones. By questioning the need for taxation this pillar of the Scottish legal establishment has surely outed himself as some kind of anarcho-capitalist! As Mr Jones states:

Unless it can be proved that the government always acts for good, suggesting morality as the basis for payment means there can be a strong case for refusing to hand over taxes.
I have never seen any proof that government always acts for "good" and therefore agree with Mr Jones when he tells us that:
Sir Nicholas’ sweeping assertion before the Chartered Institute of Taxation was little more than political dogma.
As my old lapel button says: Taxation is Theft.

Wednesday, 20 August 2003

More numerous than tourists in Edinburgh

I know that Andrew Duffin will say that we can avoid midges by sailing offshore and that Colin Beveridge believes that the answer is to fly above the beasties, but some of us attract them no matter what. And so I must applaud another step forward in the never-ending battle against the tiresome critters:
Following recent news of a commercial machine which is said to successfully clear the blood-sucking insect from wide swathes of countryside, two Highland companies have now come up with a domestic midge trap.
The market for this invention is vast:
That there are plenty of midges to go round is hardly in doubt. In the west of Scotland, one hectare can contain 24 million midge larvae.
And to think that Scotland is supposed to be under populated.

Taking the Stagecoach

Here is some good news for Fife residents:
COMMUTERS on one of the busiest road and rail routes in Scotland are being offered an alternative after the launch yesterday of the UK's first commercially-run combined bus and taxi operation.
Well it's certainly time for the introduction of the jitney into the UK. This is the only way to get most road commuters onto public transport. The proposed service is to operate every 10 minutes for 20 hours per day; collecting commuters from their homes and taking them back again at night. Who wants to stand at a windswept bustop in the Scottish winter?

Naturally, taxi drivers are unhappy:

However, private hire drivers criticised the new scheme. John Aitchison, a partner in Ace Taxis, based in Dunfermline, said several private hire firms had formed an action group to seek legal advice and complain to the Office of Fair Trading.

He said they were unhappy that Stagecoach's taxibuses were allowed to advertise their name and number on the outside of the vehicle when private hire drivers were not allowed to do so.

OK, let the taxis advertise but full marks to Stagecoach for enabling Fifers to read the paper on the way to work rather than cursing the interminable queue at the Forth Road Bridge.

Our futures?

At the Book Festival yesterday historian Norman Davies said that no political entity could endure without a common language. In fifty years' time Europe would have a common language and the continent would then be called “England” because English would be the language!

In fifty years' time the US would be called “Los Estados Unidos.”

Tuesday, 19 August 2003

What is ethical?

The Social Market Foundation is concerned about the matter of "Ethical" Investing:
The Social Market Foundation said that although Scots have good intentions they do not have the information to make proper judgements.

The research showed that 86% of Scots consumers prefer to purchase goods and services from companies that are socially and environmentally responsible.

Scots are also most enthusiastic about new government regulation (40%) and have the highest expectations of business to improve its labelling (76%).

They also supported tax breaks for firms who make the grade and those that do not should be named and shamed, survey respondents said.

But what is ethical and who decides? The idea of "tax breaks" for so-called ethical investments fills me with horror. Such intervention would merely reflect the current hobbyhorses of the politically correct members of the great and the good. If there is going to any "naming and shaming" let's get ready for a consumer boycott of any company that helps the government introduce ID cards.

Monday, 18 August 2003

An apology

Blogging is light at the moment as a result of all too many visits to the Edinburgh Book Festival. This morning I heard Peter Hitchens of the Mail on Sunday and have just finished listening to Roy Greenslade, previously editor of the Daily Mirror. Later today there is a talk by David Steel, who was leader of the Liberal Party and then Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament. I shall see the day out with crime writer Quintin Jardine. Back to normal tomorrow I expect.

Sunday, 17 August 2003

Sign of the times

For those of you who worry that living on credit may have got out of hand:

(Thanks to Daily Reckoning)

Friday, 15 August 2003

Scotland's economy

According to The Scotsman today:
SCOTLAND’s contribution to the UK economy has been in freefall since 1994, it emerged yesterday - a decline which is now costing the country some £11 billion in lost wealth every year.
Naturally, opposition politicians are making a noise:
The Scottish National Party yesterday said that the missing £11.2bn reflected business in Scotland taking flight through its lack of faith in the Scottish Executive to create a business-friendly environment.

Jim Mather, the party’s economic spokesman, focused on the substantially revised figures on London - whose GDP per head stood at £18,100 in 1999.

Scotland’s figure of £12,800 per head, he said, was inexcusable. "As a nation, we are now more than £5,000 poorer for every man, woman and child than in London. That is the price we are paying for staying part of the UK."

Commenting on that final paragraph, Andrew Duffin has pointed out:
The first sentence is pretty much correct. The last one, of course, should read "That is the price we pay for sticking with outdated statist nostrums"
It's certainly true to say that the Executive hasn't created a "business-friendly environment" but, with the possible exception of Jim Mather himself, the pronouncements of SNP politicians don't indicate that independence would make any difference. Scotland needs a profound cultural change if it is to become more prosperous. That would mean the generation of home grown businesses rather than being overly reliant on tax-funded inward investment.

Scotland's R&D is well below the UK average:

Iain Duff, an economist at the Scottish Council for Development and Industry, said there remains no policy in place that might cause a major turn-around in the Scottish share of the UK total increasing.

He said: "It couldn’t get any worse - there is only one way for the figures to go and that is up. It’s a perennial problem for Scotland as historically we’ve always been poor at R&D spending.

"I believe part of it is a reflection of the Scottish economy - it’s a branch plant economy where the R&D spending is not carried out in Scotland."

Note that "branch plant economy." We have used huge amounts of public money to bribe non-Scottish companies to come here and all too often they leave at the first sign of an economic downturn. Far better to leave the money in the hands of local businessmen, get rid of economic "development" agencies and watch what can be achieved free from the dead hand of government.

(The links on this post are somewhat temperamental. You may have to click a few times to get the correct article.)

Back to Charlotte Square

I don't usually agree with the views of Ruth Wishart but today I do:
Nowhere is that appetite for engaging with issues, events, and ideas more evident than at the International Book Festival, where some of the world's most provocative writers, historians, and commentators meet some of the world's most enthusiastic audiences. There is a spell now being woven in that sprawling, tented village which has captivated many thousands of new adherents.
The Book Festival is indeed wonderful. I have already mentioned my first two visits and was there again on the next two days. On Tuesday there was a talk on "Writing Local History" by Brian Osborne, co-author of The Clyde at War and author of several other books on Scottish history. I had not heard of Brian before but enjoyed a very enthusiastic talk by one who clearly loves his subject.

The next evening I attended a panel discussion organised by the Institute of Ideas as part of their commemoration of Orwell's centenary. Claire Fox chaired The Art of Political Journalism with speakers Iain Macwhirter (Sunday Herald), Brendan O'Neil (spiked online), Chris Shaw (Channel 5) and Lindsey Hilsum (Channel 4).

I was pleasantly surprised to hear Macwhirter defend "objective truth" and make his claim that New Labour spin was a consequence of so many of Blair's people being educated by the cultural Marxists of the Frankfurt School. There was an amusing discussion about Fox Television. Claire Fox (presumably no relation!) mentioned it as an example of a new type of politically committed television journalism. Shaw responded by claiming that although Fox TV sometimes pushed a conservative viewpoint, most of its programmes were politically neutral "like CNN." None of the panel seemed to know that millions of Americans think that CNN is the "Clinton News Network" or even the "Commie News Network".

Several members of the audience complained about innumeracy in media reporting and in government pronouncements. Macwhirter agreed and denounced Gordon Brown's use of "double-counting" when announcing spending plans. The panel members were certainly not libertarians but all had a healthy disregard for Blair and his crew.

Thursday, 14 August 2003

Parent power

There's a right stushie going on in middle class Glasgow concerning recent events at Hutchesons' Grammar School:
The governors at one of Scotland's leading private schools have been accused of gross mismanagement by disgruntled parents.

Some have been angered by the rapid departure of the deputy rector at Glasgow's Hutchesons' Grammar School, which fuelled claims he had been put in an untenable position because of a difficult relationship with the rector.

I don't know whether the "traditionalist" Sandy Strang was forced out or not but there is little doubt that the wishes of the fee-paying parents are more likely to be attended to at Hutchie's than in any state school.

Sheep shouldn't be party leaders

It does seem rather extraordinary that John Swinney, the boss of the Scottish Nationalists, thinks that up to one third of his party's members may support the leadership challenger, Bill Wilson, "a little-known SNP activist from the West of Scotland."

Dr Wilson and his friends think that Swinney has undersold the case for independence. Swinney wants an SNP victory at Holyrood to be followed by an independence referendum. The Wilsonites think that independence should automatically result after an SNP win with no referendum being required. But neither Swinney nor Wilson seems to be able to answer the question: How can Scotland be "independent" in Europe? And "independence in Europe" has been the slogan of the SNP for years.

The European Union has destroyed Scotland's fishing industry and now threatens the sheep trade:

It would be virtually impossible to stage Europe’s largest one day sale of sheep at Lairg in Sutherland if the EU’s latest proposals covering the welfare of animals in transit are approved.

That was the unanimous view expressed in Lairg yesterday when 25,000 North Country Cheviot lambs were offered for sale. NFU Scotland, the British Veterinary Association and the Institute of Auctioneers and Appraisers in Scotland, who in addition have the support of the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, joined forces in condemning the proposals from Brussels.

This is typical of the over-regulation emanating from Brussels. As the farmers' spokesman said:
An event like this at Lairg clearly highlights the problems and takes no account of the market situation and the practical logistics.
I suspect that areas like Scotland, far from the economic centre of Europe, suffer most from the EU's anti-capitalist rules. Bureaucrats don't care about "market situations" or "practical logistics", but if Swinney or Wilson wants a prosperous and successful Scotland they need to speak out against the EU's red tape machine.

A tale of two airports

Michael O'Leary, boss of Ryanair, has upset the owners of Glasgow International Airport:
He wants it renamed Glasgow Domestic and the "International" tag transferred to Prestwick Airport.
Prestwick serves more international destinations than Glasgow although the latter airport carries far more passengers.

In defence of Glasgow airport:

A BAA spokesman said: "I'm sure the fact that Glasgow International handled 3.5million international passengers last year, more than Prestwick's entire throughput, coupled with the fact Prestwick is not even in Glasgow, will have a direct bearing on the outcome of this complaint
Oh dear. The BAA spokesman is correct in saying that Prestwick Airport is not in Glasgow but Glasgow Airport is not in Glasgow either!

In the meantime, Ryanair has announced a new route from Prestwick to Gothenburg. According to O'Leary:

"Stockholm is one of our most successful routes in and out of Scotland. A lot of Scandinavians want to fly in the winter when it is dark and cold there. They think Scotland has a Mediterranean-like climate in January and February."
Quite right. The vineyards of the Costa Clyde are particularly fine in the winter months.

Tuesday, 12 August 2003

1603 and all that

At the Book Festival last night I heard a talk by Christopher Lee who spoke about 1603, his new book on that momentous year:
A great step-change in British history took place in 1603: the year that Elizabeth I died and the monarchy passed from the Tudors to the Stuarts, from the house of Henry VIII to James VI of Scotland who ruled as James I of England. It was also the year the Black Death returned, killing some 30,000 out of a population of only 4 million. This is the story of both the history-makers - Elizabeth, James, Robert Cecil, Shakespeare, Galileo - and of the common people; of turmoil in the Church, state-sponsored piracy and the establishment of new trade routes
Lee, a Cambridge academic I believe, held the audience spellbound with his tales of King James, Walter Raleigh ("Raw-ley") and Robert Cecil ("Sissell"). Shakespeare's manager was described as the Cameron Mackintosh of his day who apparently made more money from bear baiting than from the Bard. I noticed Father of the House of Commons and local MP Tam Dalyell sitting close by.

Later in the evening my wife and I saw and heard further references to 1603 at the Edinburgh Tattoo.

We have ways of making you pay

Although the First Minister was unable to get himself from Orkney to Prestwick on time, Edinburgh's local bureaucrats are more organised:
Officers from the city council’s environmental health department confirmed they would be watching the events closely.

And just what are the "events" attracting such close attention?

Safety chiefs have said they will be monitoring "dominatrix" workshops to be held in a sex dungeon at Edinburgh’s festival of erotica.
That's OK then, I suppose. My taxes at work.

The dominatrix mistress said:

"You have to be aware of what not to do. I was trained in the dungeons of New York and London so I know what I’m doing and I’m confident."
Shouldn't she be working for the Inland Revenue?

And they think they can run the country!

I was born in Annan and grew up in Prestwick. The leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats and Deputy First Minister is Jim Wallace. He also comes from Annan and has screwed up big time in, or rather not in, Prestwick:
JIM WALLACE apologised to one of the world's biggest aviation companies yesterday after he missed an event because he could not get on a flight.

The deputy first minister had been due to make the official opening of BAE Systems' new regional aircraft headquarters at Prestwick airport. He was booked on a stand-by option for the flight from Orkney to Edinburgh, but the fully-booked plane took off without him

This looks like a severe case of incompetence. Who agrees to appear at an important event and books a standby air ticket? That's especially true when flying from Orkney where you can't just jump on another carrier. Full marks to the airline for not kicking off a more organised passenger to make way for the minister.

Monday, 11 August 2003

Book people

Yesterday afternoon my wife and I paid our first visit to the Edinburgh Book Festival and went to a talk given by Radio 4's Nick Clarke and Linda Colley, the historian. The topic was British National Identity. Both speakers gave interesting presentations and afterwards signed copies of their books. Clarke thought that the class system was alive and well in Britain, largely because we did not face the trauma of defeat in either World War. He also condemned the "celebrity culture". Of course, we libertarians use class analysis to examine how individuals use the state to exploit others. The greatest period in our history occurred when businessmen asked for the state to get out of the way rather than to provide special benefits for some. As Linda Colley wrote in her book:
But at a deeper level, these private organisations also bore witness to dissatisfaction with the more formal institutions of the state, to a growing belief that they were too hidebound and too exclusive to carry out all the changes that traders wanted.
She was writing about the 1760's. Eventually we achieved free trade and prosperity followed. I was saddened therefore to hear Colley say that she had no idea why so many British people were concerned about the EU's Social Chapter. The emerging Euro-state has also become "too hidebound and too exclusive." Why can't Linda Colley see that?

(Incidentally, I noticed that the programme showed the 1130 slot being filled by (1) a Dinosaur Workshop and (2) Roy Hattersley. Couldn't these have been combined as "Old Labour"?)

How not to run a business

The transfer of ownership of council houses from the local authority to a housing association has run into trouble in the Borders:
Board members of the Scottish Borders Housing Association (SBHA) will be told tonight that a variety of financial and operational issues are having a "serious negative impact" on the association’s business plan.

A report to be considered at the meeting says: "In view of the extent and severity of the adverse impacts on the business plan since transfer, it is not certain that revised business plans can accommodate the resultant additional costs and still enable SBHA to meet all commitments."

The bill for the Scottish parliament building is now expected to be more than ten times the original estimate. The Scottish Executive has underspent its budget for the past year by some £500 million without quite knowing how. So it's no real surprise to learn that local bureaucrats are no more competent down in the Borders. They've underestimated the need for house repairs, made "incorrect calculations" in the housing association business plan and now discover that more houses are empty than expected. Well, these things happen with business plans - not that we are talking about a real "business", of course. But how on earth can they forget to allow for the cost of their own head office? I don't suppose that they could forget about the new HQ and move the tax-consumers into the empty houses.

I also note that the 6,728 council houses were transferred to the housing association for £3,469 each, with further expenditure of £10,969 per house planned over the next ten years. The taxpayers are getting less than £4,000 per house and yet the housing association can't cope financially, although its chairman was "confident the problems could be overcome with the assistance from the Scottish Executive." Well, duh - whose couldn't?

This whole affair stinks. The Borders Council should just give the houses away to the tenants and let them pay for future repairs and maintenance. Yes, we taxpayers would have been ripped-off yet again, but enough is enough: end the dependency culture now and make a fresh start.

Sunday, 10 August 2003

Friday, 8 August 2003

Saying no to statism

Michael Russell was one of the most prominent nationalists to lose his seat in the Scottish parliamentary election earlier this year. His article in today's Glasgow Herald is not quite as supportive of party leader John Swinney as one might have expected. On the question of Swinney's challenger for the leadership, Russell writes:
I hardly know Bill Wilson, but the SNP establishment attacks upon him have been daft and self-defeating. The interviews he has given have shown him to be intelligent, articulate, and passionately concerned. Those are virtues which are needed in the SNP, and he is entitled to put his case for a different route for the party, a case which he argues courageously.
Russell still plans to vote for Swinney to retain the leadership, but conditionally:
The first condition is that he accelerates the process of internal renewal starting with one-member-one-vote, and proceeding thereafter to a complete constitutional, organisational, and campaigning overhaul to free the party from the dead hand of its statist past.
The bit I liked was freeing the party "from the dead hand of its statist past." Let's here more about this. As I wrote here, Scotland needs a more capitalist political culture.

For every credit there must be a debit

I have always believed that matters financial and economic can only be understood if they can be explained in terms of basic double-entry bookkeeping. In a world of fiat money this is becoming increasingly difficult, and the consequences can be seen from Enron and WorldCom to the State of California.

Here in Scotland, as elsewhere, personal bankruptcies are rising:

It now estimates that more than 3300 people will have gone bankrupt (in Scotland) by the end of this year, a rise of 3.1% on last year, and the number of personal bankruptcies is at its highest since the company started collating statistics nine years ago.

"The current generation of people do not think as much about what they are spending," he said. "In the past Scots had a reputation for living within their means."

Grant Thornton also warned that as the Bank of England reported record levels of personal lending, there was a real danger that people may be getting themselves into more debt than they could afford.

The amount of credit card lending for June 2002 was £676m, which rose to £861m by June 2003, a rise of 27.4% in one year. The amount secured on dwellings rose from £17.5bn in June 2002 to £24.6bn in June 2003, a leap of 28.9%.

"The danger is that people are becoming more indebted because they believe that house prices will continue to rise and interest rates remain at their current historically low level," added Mr Henderson.

As sure as A is A, there will be a day of reckoning:
According to a survey by Reed Accountancy more than three quarters of UK finance directors believe the general public cannot cope with the complexity of modern personal finances and could be unable to repay debts.
As a former finance director myself, I concur. I urge readers to be financially cautious and perhaps start listening to the Saturday broadcasts on this site.

I have a nasty feeling that the world is passing through the financial equivalent of the summer of 1914.

Dare we call it conspiracy?

The endless torrent of taxation and red tape emanating from the government must surely benefit accountants and lawyers. But are they happy?

Not so, it seems.

Marilyn Jeffcoat, managing director of Edinburgh accountants DM Vaughan, says:

"Tax legislation is so sloppily drafted," she says. "When I first started all the legislation was under the Finance Act and was in one small Butterworth. Now it’s in two books, and is five times thicker.

"That’s because the legislation was originally so sloppy that it needs all this extra interpretation and statutory instruments to provide the real detail."

"The biggest change is just the sheer scope and quantity of legislation and regulations. It’s become an industry in itself," she says.

And where is all this leading?

Ms Jeffcoat says the overall effect on business of increasing tax laws and other legislation could kill off swathes of family-run and small businesses."I used to have to help clients with just their tax affairs, now I have to help them with all their legislation requirements," she states.

"A lot of family businesses which turn over between £500,000 and £1 million will go down, as there’s so few willing younger people coming through.

"We’re talking about businesses that keep ten people in work and may have supported a number of families over a lifetime.

"People are coming to the end of their tether. The rewards are just not there for increasing numbers of people."

Tony Blair's New Labour is certainly different from the nationalising party of the Attlee era. Privately owned businesses continue to exist and prosper. But, as Ms Jeffcoat notes, small businesses are being destroyed by over-complicated taxation and regulation. People are giving up; Atlas is shrugging. I have never been too keen on conspiracy theories, but corporatist big business gains from the destruction of smaller rivals and potential newcomers. Blair loves the glamour associated with wealthy businessmen and I am now of the opinion that he is being used by establishment companies to destroy those who might otherwise grow and challenge them.

Wednesday, 6 August 2003

The state is not your friend

Andrew Duffin has drawn my attention to two news items:

(1) In yesterday's Scotsman Gavin Esler pontificates about Africa:

And so, 50 years after de-colonisation began, Africa is a continent of biblical misery. The root cause is human incompetence rather than acts of God or the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The famines in Ethiopia and Zimbabwe are largely the creation of men. The destruction of the Congo, of Sierra Leone and Liberia, were all fuelled by greed for diamonds and other resources. Those of us on the outside see Africa as the face of a starving child, an AIDS mother or a drug-addled teenage thug with a Kalashnikov.

For us, too, there is a simple, almost biblical choice. We can pass by, shrug our shoulders and say that Africa is hopeless. Or we can do what we can. I suggest that despite the air of hopelessness, we have no choice but to do what we can.

Africa's problems are "the creation of men" but not in the way Esler thinks. As Andrew Duffin says: "let the State try to fix things, and the problem just gets worse". Helping Africa doesn't require more Western intervention but rather the sweeping away of trade restrictions that stop us from buying African products. The International Society for Individual Liberty does an excellent job - using private money - to educate people in Africa and elsewhere on the benefits of liberty.

(2) Meanwhile, back in Scotland the takeaway police are in action again:

The authority, which abandoned licenses for late-night catering in 1998, is to back the return of the policy today. If put into effect, it would mean all takeaways closing at 12.30am. At present, premises can open as late as they wish.
If only Africa had all these busybodies: think how well off everyone would be.

Falling numbers

Over on UK Commentators Laban Tall writes about Scotland's declining population and explains why things are different in England.

Tuesday, 5 August 2003

The Quebec solution

George Kerevan's article on the SNP's leadership contest compares the situation here with that in Quebec where an election has recently been held:
In fact, Quebec had become the highest-taxed part of North America as a result of the PQ’s pandering to trades unions and activist lobbies. So the Liberals, who are normally mildly social democratic, campaigned on a populist platform of cutting taxes but also modernising Quebec’s health and education system. The Liberals won 76 seats in the 125-member legislature, while he PQ’s total shrank to 45.

But there’s a coda to this story. The Quebec election was also innovative because of the strong performance of a new radical party, Quebec Democratic Action (ADQ). Shades of Tommy Sheridan? Not a bit of it. ADQ has broken the mould of left-wing Quebec politics by being unashamedly in favour of lower taxes. It also wants more private involvement in health care, and state vouchers for individuals to spend as they like on schools.

Like similar libertarian parties in Scandinavia, it is supported by the young professionals, many of whom abstain in Scottish elections.

It sounds a bit familiar, doesn't it? Scotland has overtaken Sweden and has Europe's largest public sector, thanks to the same "pandering to trades unions and activist lobbies." If young professionals in Scandinavia and Quebec will vote for "libertarian parties", then why not here?

Kerevan proclaims:

What Scotland needs is something like the ADQ. A Scottish champion able to use the political machinery at Holyrood to rebuild the Scottish economy, willing to protect Scottish interests from Whitehall and Westminster, and all the while getting out of the way of restricting the personal freedom of ordinary Scots.
If the Wilsonite challenge to the SNP leadership is thoroughly defeated the leftists in the party may well move over to the Scottish Socialist Party. Have the mainstream Nationalists got the vision to seek an alliance with the Conservatives to create a Scottish version of the ADQ?

Cashing in your chips

In The Millionaire Next Door Thomas Stanley and William Danko explain how most rich people make their money in basic, unfashionable businesses.

The typical millionaire:

....is a businessman who has lived in the same town for all of his adult life. This person owns a small factory, a chain of stores, or a service company. He has married once and remains married. He lives next door to people with a fraction of his wealth. He is a compulsive saver and investor. And he has made his money on his own. Eighty percent of America's millionaires are first-generation rich.
Well, it looks as if the same rules apply here in Scotland:
THE award-winning Anstruther Fish Bar has changed hands in a deal worth more than £1.5 million.

The business, which is in the Gourmet Guide to Fish and Chips and has twice been named Fish and Chip Shop of the Year, has been sold by the proprietors, Ian and Ann Whyte, and their business partner, Colin Cromar.

It has been bought by another Anstruther man, Robert Smith and his family, who also run the Argo Fish company in nearby St Monans.

Not only have the sellers managed to get £1.5 million for a fish and chip shop in a small east coast town but the purchaser is another local entrepreneur in the same line of business. Good for the Whytes and their partner: they have earned their retirement. How unlike our friends in local government:
SCOTLAND’S local authority pension funds have lost more than £1.5 billion over the past year, The Scotsman can reveal, leaving a £2.4 billion black hole which may have to be filled by cuts in services or council tax rises.
If business owners screw-up, their pensions are reduced or even lost completely. When government workers pensions are threatened - as a direct consequence of the Chancellor's policies - no problem: just "cut services or increase council taxes." That's not right. Government workers' pensions should be reduced in line with the average in the private sector.

Monday, 4 August 2003

The Gathering Storm

It looks as though foreign nationals may be allowed to vote in a Euro referendum:
TONY BLAIR’s coming referendum on the euro may include measures to increase the "yes" result by extending the vote to the 800,000 Europeans living in Britain but still registered as foreign nationals.

Lord Falconer, whose Department for Constitutional Affairs is supervising the referendum plan, is considering extending the vote to anyone working in Britain with a European passport.

This is likely to deliver a fillip to the "yes" campaign as expatriate Europeans are expected to be among the most enthusiastic cheerleaders for the single currency.

If there were to be a pro-Euro majority that was less than the number of foreigners "entitled" to vote I would suggest that we would be in a revolutionary situation.

By the way, what's this "still registered as foreign nationals"? They are foreign nationals.

Rail v Road

I like railways and was therefore pleased to read that a small extension is to be made to the Glasgow network:
Firms are to be invited to bid for the £28 million scheme between Hamilton and Larkhall in Lanarkshire, which will also provide more frequent cross-city trains through Glasgow.

Work on the long-delayed line is expected to start later this year, before planning permission runs out, and be completed in 2006.

A three-mile spur will re-link Larkhall to the rail network in the most extensive new track scheme since the re-laying of the Argyle line through Glasgow city centre in 1979.

Now I realise that the poor old taxpayer will be coughing up for some of the cost, but that's also the case with new roads. Without a free market in transport we can't tell whether rail or road is more appropriate.

There is some evidence that the case for rail is not being made properly. This report is interesting:

The authors say there is so much hype over train crashes that most people do not realise fatal accidents have been reduced every decade for the past 70 years.

There were 8.8 fatal crashes a year in 1940s, but only one per year in the 2000s.

Fewer passengers have died since privatisation than in the same period before privatisation - 97 deaths compared to 127.

They say if the public realised it cost taxpayers £10m to save each life with the new train warning system TPWS, but as little as £100,000 to save a life with safety measures on the roads, they might prefer to invest public money differently.

The great economist Frederic Bastiat explained the importance of both "What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen" when analysing economic phenomena. Health and Safety regulations seem to be applied far more rigorously to the railway system than to our roads. What Is Seen (for those not blinded by anti-privatisation propaganda) is an increasingly safe railway. What Is Not Seen are the additional deaths and injuries to road users who might otherwise use a cheaper and less regulated railway.

A market solution

The US government was much criticised for its now withdrawn plan to create a "terrorism futures market". Perhaps, though, the idea had some merit. In Mark Skousen's latest book I read about this research programme at the University of Iowa:
The Iowa Electronic Markets are real-money futures markets in which contract payoffs depend on economic and political events such as elections.
If you want to go long or short in Hillary Clinton futures, this is your place:
2004 Presidential Election Vote-Share Market

The IEM 2004 US Presidential Vote Share Market is a real-money futures market where contract payoffs will be determined by the popular vote cast in the 2004 U.S. Presidential Election. Please see the market prospectus for specific details of this market.

The market is open to all traders world-wide. Consult our on-line trader's manual for additional information

It occurs to me that we could do with this kind of thinking here in Scotland. The Scottish Nationalists are in a financial mess:
The crisis in the SNP deepened last night as it emerged the party is more than half a million pounds in debt, throwing into further doubt its chances of ever winning power.

The official opposition, already battered by a leadership battle and the loss of eight MSPs at the polls, is only keeping afloat thanks to the goodwill of a major bank and activists who have not called in loans.

Half a million in the red and a leadership contest: let's see some innovative thinking. The SNP should organise a futures market in party leaders. The market needn't be restricted to the in-house "Swinneys" and "Wilsons" but could be extended to rival brands: "Blairs" and "Browns", for example. I believe that quite a few of the party's activists work in the financial sector. Let them show a commitment to capitalism and differentiate themselves from the dreary municipal Stalinists in the Scottish Socialist Party.

Friday, 1 August 2003

In camera

Someone may be sent to jail for using a mobile telephone to record and transmit proceedings in the Perth Sheriff Court:
Sheriff James Tierney said the incident raised serious issues for the future conducting of cases within the Scottish legal system, and has cited the alleged culprit to appear after footage of a friend was recorded while she was appearing on motoring charges.

I fully understand why order has to be maintained in a court but why exactly is permission to film proceedings only granted "in exceptional circumstances?" There seems to be an unnecessary degree of protectionism going on here. If newspaper journalists are allowed into courts, why not cameras?