Friday, 31 October 2003

But she is a hypocrite

Labour MP Diane Abbott has got herself into hot water for sending her son to a private school. According to Ms Abbott:
... she had decided that ruining her political reputation was preferable to choosing the local comprehensive.

"It’s not a defensible position, and I haven’t attempted to defend it. I spent five days not defending it," she said, speaking on her weekly appearance on the BBC’s This Week politics programme last night.

In the Daily Mail Colette Douglas Home writes:
She (Ms Abbott) stands accused of hypocrisy for sending her son to a private school when she has, in the past, castigated colleagues for doing just that.

But she isn't a hypocrite. She is just a mother who is learning a costly lesson.

I'm sorry. That just won't do. Ms Abbott has realised that her party has created a disaster in inner-city schools and she wants her son out of them. Fair enough. But she remains a Member of Parliament who was elected as a candidate for the Labour Party. She retains the Labour whip. She continues to earn a salary more than double the national average with benefits on top. That's how she can afford to send her son to a private school. Few of her Hackney constituents have that choice. She should immediately give up her membership of the Labour party, resign from Parliament and get a job in the private sector. Then and only then will she not deserve the title of hypocrite.

Devolve the Conservative Party?

Tory MSP Brian Monteith laments the departure of Iain Duncan Smith:
In his 777 days as leader Iain Duncan Smith put to rest the Tory war over Europe and gave it a policy platform that has focused on public services and restored its credibility on these issues. A sincere and decent man, his removal was unnecessary.
I'm in two minds about this. I agree that Duncan Smith was a "sincere and decent man" but I am not convinced that he had the star qualities that modern politics demands in a television age. On the other hand maybe I'm not the only one who has to be restrained from throwing a brick at the television whenever Mr Blair appears. Perhaps the public would have turned away from loud spin towards the quiet man. Too late now though: the deed is done.

I am intrigued by Mr Monteith's thoughts on the future of the Conservative Party here in Scotland:

Watching all of this gore like a cheesy Hammer horror convinces me that the future of the Scottish Conservatives must lie as a party that stands on its own two feet, separate from all of this self-indulgence at Westminster.

We need to show ourselves as putting Scotland’s interests first - and in David McLetchie we have a decent bloke at the helm who grows in stature almost daily. He has overtaken John Swinney by sheer force of intellect and manages to make Jim Wallace look smug and weak at the same time.

Jack McConnell is a tougher nut to crack, but at times he can be rattled and cannot shake off the shifty, insincere aura that inevitably comes from being such a Machiavellian political operator. Of course Scottish Tories are in many ways entirely independent already. The political policies for all the devolved areas are already made in Scotland. It would not be a difficult leap for us to formulate our own views on UK issues such as defence, taxation and welfare and promote them in Scotland’s interests within the wider Tory family.

Scottish Tories would be expected, indeed required, to take the Conservative whip at Westminster and we would establish reciprocal rights within the English party, attending its conferences, committees and voting in leadership elections.

The real test would be the struggle to achieve financial viability but I rather suspect there are many individuals and businesses that would warm to a genuinely separate Scottish Tory Party that fiercely defended Scotland’s interests in Edinburgh and London.

Claims that it would be another step towards independence are alarmist nonsense - who doubts the commitment of the Ulster Unionists to the United Kingdom? Indeed, bringing them back into the Tory fold at Westminster, with a Shadow Cabinet seat for David Trimble, would be a natural way to show how such a relationship could work and a feather in Howard’s cap.

Iain Duncan Smith is going with dignity and in time he will be thanked for laying the foundations of a future Tory victory. But in Scotland we should be thinking of how we achieve power ourselves, rather than waiting for a new leader to deliver.

I think that a devolved Conservative Party is essential for a devolved Scotland. The Scottish Parliament is not going to go away and I believe that the "Monteith Plan" would be an excellent way for the Tories to steal a march on Labour.

Thursday, 30 October 2003

I blame the parents

Another day, another education row. This time it's the plan to redraw Edinburgh's school catchment areas. Officially this is being done to make more efficient use of resources, taking into account population movements within the city.

But there's another agenda. A teaching union spokesman said:

...that he welcomed the prospect of redistribution of pupils: "We don’t have as comprehensive a system as we would like. I would like it to revert to that."
"We" would like. "I" would like. What about the parents?

Unsurprisingly the education establishment still supports the comprehensive system that has done so much damage in Scotland. The status quo is loved by the unions. Thomas Sowell of the Hoover Institution writes about the same phenomenon in the US:

From the standpoint of the NEA (the Teachers' Union). the American public schools are not a failure but a great big success. These schools provide NEA members with jobs where they have iron-clad tenure, automatic raises, and no accountability for bad performances by their students or themselves.
American public (i.e. state) schools are being dumbed-down just like here and with the same results. The reason is that schools are in the hands of the producer class and not the customers. I note that, as always, Judith Gillespie of the bizarrely named "Scottish Parent Teacher Council" takes the side of the producer establishment.

Look at the response expected from many parents.

The plan:

... is set to provoke a storm of protest among parents who have bought homes close to schools with the strongest reputations.
And the union spokesman predicted:
... that the plans will affect house prices in the city and may induce more parents to opt for private schools.
Regular readers will be expecting me to lambaste the city council at this point. Well, there'll be plenty of other opportunities for that. This time I'll have a go at the parents.

Many will have bought properties in areas served by the better schools in the city. The proposed changes will probably reduce the value of those homes. That's bad news. It is perfectly understandable that parents will have chosen properties so as to get the best education for their children but those who live by the state will die by the market. These parents have trusted the system; they trusted the state. And now they know better. They have found out the hard way. The lesson to be learned is this: If you want the best for your children's education - or for anything else worth having - DON'T RELY ON A POLITICIAN. The state is not your friend. Next time go private.

Tuesday, 28 October 2003

Vote of no confidence for Iain

Alex Massie has produced an extensive fisking of Iain MacWhirter's recent piece on private schooling.

In defence of civil society

Over on Samizdata Perry de Havilland has posted his views on London's Big Smoke Debate, which is asking whether anti-smoking laws should be introduced to regulate privately owned establishments that are open to the public.

Perry writes:

To take the view that replacing social interaction (such as deciding to walk out of a bar because it is too smoky or quitting your job because you dislike smoky environments) with political interaction, namely agreeing that people can be dragged off to jail by armed men because they smoke in places you would like to enter as a matter of your discretionary ease, is nothing less than taking the view that imposing your convenience by force (and we are not talking prohibiting robbery or murder here) is okay, because anything done via political process is okay.
I agree with this viewpoint. Interestingly, yesterday's Herald reported on a recent survey on this very question:
Three out of 10 non-smokers (30%) and more than half of adult smokers (55%) had "no real concern" about smoking in pubs, clubs, and bars, according to the research.

Only 17% of all adults believe smoking should be banned in these places. The majority (86%) felt that the smoking situation in pubs, clubs and bars has improved in recent years.

This survey is rejected by the usual suspects:
However, Tanith Muller, spokesperson for ASH Scotland, the anti-tobacco organisation, dismissed the research as "motivated by clear commercial interest".
Ms Muller claims that another survey shows a majority in favour of further "restrictions", but how many of those people would favour a complete ban? What is fascinating is Ms Muller's assumption that research can be dismissed because of its "clear commercial interest". In a free market - the commercial world - willing buyers interact with willing sellers as explained in Mr de Havilland's article. ASH on the other hand operates in the political world. I would argue that research favoured by the tobacco banners serves a clear political interest and should be judged accordingly. Let's not forget that controlling people's freedoms is in the class interest of large numbers who are unable or unwilling to make an honest buck in the marketplace.

Monday, 27 October 2003

Good evening sir ....

Katie Grant has been watching the highly publicised BBC programme in which one of their reporters posed as a police recruit. Ms Grant is not amused:
WATCHING the now infamous The Secret Policeman, I was struck not just by the violence of the racism expressed by the individuals who have now either been suspended or resigned, but also their filthy language. Every second word was "f ***", or sometimes "c***".
She continues:
You might say that policemen only reflect the language of the streets down which they will be patrolling, and that the ones we heard swearing were swearing in private. That is true enough, but policemen are not supposed to reflect us, they are supposed to protect us, and a man whose private communication skills are so limited that he can do nothing but swear is, as any psychologist will tell you, a prime candidate to resort to brute force when thwarted, whether at home or at work.
I am sufficiently ancient to recall an incident that would be unthinkable nowadays. I used to travel home from school by bus from Ayr to Prestwick. One afternoon one of the lads sitting upstairs at the front of the bus used the "f" word. Unfortunately for him he was overheard by the conductress. She immediately rang the bell several times, the bus pulled into the roadside, and the driver rushed upstairs. He yelled to a now silent group of schoolchildren: "If any of you do that again I'll drive the bus straight to the police station where you will be dealt with and your fathers informed." That was the last time I heard such language until I moved to London at age 18. Part of me accepts that the police should reflect the society in whose name they act but I am inclined to agree with Ms Grant that this does not mean that they should "reflect the language of the streets".

Of course, it is a truth universally acknowledged that once the police have been privatised they would speak like characters out of Jane Austen.

Now hear this!

Just what we always wanted, a speaking car:
EDINBURGH scientists are developing the ultimate back seat driver - a car which talks back.

And scientists say the car will even be able to tell how it is being driven - and comment appropriately.


"Pay your licence fee now, it expires in two days. By the way, your local post office closed last week."

"My tank is almost empty, fill up, think of Gordon Brown, and enjoy paying the tax!"

"Of course you're far enough from the car in front." CRUNCH. "Sorry, I was looking at that sexy red Ferrari."

"They removed the next speed camera a few days ago. Ha! Did you see that flash? April fool!"

No respect from politicians

They tax you when you're alive and won't leave you in peace afterwards.

Once again Edinburgh council workers have toppled headstones. This time 2000 have been "laid flat" in Morningside Cemetery. This is quite outrageous and I am not the only one to think so:

But critics claimed the council had not tried to contact relatives of deceased before starting the programme, and workers were accused of "shoulder-barging" gravestones to push them over.

The authority was forced to introduce special equipment to lay the headstones flat and pledged to do all it could to alert the public through writing to surviving relatives, contacting community groups and staging public meetings. Responsibility for reinstating headstones lies with relatives of the deceased.

It is not clear whether the appropriate people have been contacted in advance of the "topplings":
The council has been writing in advance of safety inspections to the last known address of executors of people who have bought burial rights within the last 25 years. Letters are also being sent to executors to alert them if a stone has been laid flat or is in need of remedial work.
There is a difference between "writing in advance" and "alert them if a stone has been laid flat" and it certainly looks as if the Council has acted precipitously.

Community Councillor Susan Wong says that, "You can’t really argue with the health and safety issues." Well, actually, you can. The health and safety mania sweeping Britain is highly dangerous. It is one reason why railway maintenance has become so expensive, thus causing greater numbers to use the less safe road network. The deceased deserve more respect than that shown by our city councillors.

Friday, 24 October 2003

Queen of the skies

"On the crest of a distant hill, she saw a crowd of people, their arms swinging against the sky…. As houses began to come more frequently, closer to the track, she saw people at the windows, on the perches, on distant roofs. She saw crowds blocking the roads at grade crossings. …. And she could not distinguish human figures, only their arms greeting the train like branches waving in the wind of its speed."

The John Galt Line - Atlas Shrugged: Ayn Rand.

And so it was today.

I knew that the designated viewing place at Ingliston would be busy so I drove along the back road to Kirkliston from which there is a view down towards the touchdown point of runway 24 with the snow covered Pentland Hills offering an attractive background for photography. Surely no one else would think of coming to this spot. I had arrived an hour early but two other cars were already parked. By 11 about twenty cars had arrived. At eleven-thirty both sides of this remote country road had cars and vans parked nose-to-tail. Suddenly, there she was – flying down the Firth from Stirling, over the Forth Bridges, and then turning right onto the final approach. A train stopped on the line from the North. Cameras clicked. Babies were held aloft. Small boys waved.

Two and a half hours later I was at the western end of the runway. Traffic had come to a complete stop. Every possible parking place was taken. She lifted off with a powerful roar, turned towards the South, and was gone.

Farewell Concorde.

Thursday, 23 October 2003

Philosopher bequeaths manuscripts to economist

The Glasgow Herald has a wonderful story today:
THE final wills and testaments of some of Scotland's most famous and influential figures are now available online for the first time. Every will and testament written in Scotland from 1500 to 1901 is featured on a website, including the wills of Rob Roy, Robert Burns, Robert Louis Stevenson, and James Young Simpson, the pioneer of anaesthesia. The Scottish Archive Network (Scan), which took four years to complete, contains a total of 500,000 legal documents
The information is available on this site where we can read the will of David Hume (among many others).

An extract:

To My Friend Dr. Adam Smith late Proffessor of Moral Philosophy in Glasgow I leave all my Manuscripts without exception, desiring him to publish My Dialogues on Natural religion which are comprehended in this present bequest, but to publish no other papers which he Suspects not to have been written within these five years, but to destroy them all at his Leisure, And I even leave him full power over all My papers except the dialogues Above Mentioned, and this I can trust to that Intimate and Sincere Friendship which has ever Subsisted between us for his faithfull execution of this part of My will, Yet as a small recompense for his pains in Correcting and publishing this work I leave him two hundred pounds Sterling to be paid immediately after the publication of it.
The philosopher Hume left the equivalent of £90,711 in today's money. On the other hand, Robert Louis Stevenson, surely the JK Rowling of his day, left the equivalent of £2,041,049.

Troubled Tories

I am beginning to believe that Iain Duncan Smith may indeed be on the way out:
Mr Duncan Smith was granted a stay of execution by Tory back-benchers yesterday after learning that plotters have still failed to secure the 25 names they need to trigger a leadership election.

David Maclean, the chief whip, told him earlier that his attempts to crush the rebellion are set to fail as the dissidents are too numerous. Mr Duncan Smith responded with a warning to his shadow cabinet.

"I am the leader, I was elected leader and I will take the party through the next election and win," he told them yesterday. However, the faces of Tory MPs were uniformly bleak at Prime Minister’s question time.

One possible replacement is David Davis. I seem to recall reading that Mr Davis strongly believes in cutting Scotland's share of UK expenditure. If Davis became leader and were to campaign in favour of a reduction in Scottish spending he may well find considerable support among Northern English labour MPs. Perhaps fiscal independence will be thrust upon us.

Tuesday, 21 October 2003

Class wars

The class warriors are at it again. Politicians are now threatening private schools:
SNP, Socialist and some Labour MSPs are preparing to join forces to try to change the law which allows private schools to be registered as charities, giving them tax breaks.

Without the tax breaks, the schools would be forced to put up fees to much higher levels than at present, a change which they claim would threaten their viability.

Now one could make the argument that schools should operate like other businesses and not be treated as charities. I agree, but that should apply to all schools. In other words the state should get out of the education business altogether. For the time being, parents of privately educated children should be allowed a full tax deduction equal to the savings made by not using the state system.

The usual suspects support the attack on private education:

Pat O’Donnell, of the NASUWT (a trade union), said that he had "no difficulty with them losing their charitable status".

"An independent school is not a charity; it’s a school," he added.

Judith Gillespie, of the Scottish Parent Teacher Association (sic), insisted that "private schools exclude people".

She said: "They are making profits. That is not the basis for a charity."

"Making profits" indeed. Who are the shareholders "profiting" from Huthchesons' Grammar School or George Watson's?

I wouldn't mind having some of their shares in my portfolio.

Monday, 20 October 2003

An interesting weekend

On Friday evening I attended the 50th Anniversary Dinner of the Prestwick Airport Aviation Group. I was a member of the group when I grew up near the airport as a teenager. It is a bizarre experience to meet people one hasn’t seen for three decades or more. The next day we took a tour of the airport and very interesting it was.

When Prestwick was sold by BAA to a local consortium about ten years ago it had lost all of its passenger services. Staff numbers were cut to fifty, thirty-five of whom were qualified firefighters (a legal minimum). These men doubled as aircraft loaders, security staff and handymen. At the time, they weren’t very happy! The sub-officer (equivalent of a military sergeant I would guess) who showed us round the fire station now acknowledges that the airport wouldn’t have survived without those hardships. He knew exactly how much each of the three recently acquired fire engines had cost (£370,000) and details of options to acquire more machines. I suspect that local government firefighters aren’t as switched on to the economics of their operation. Prestwick is now prospering and is on its way to carrying 2 million passengers a year.

We were shown round the Royal Navy air sea rescue base. One helicopter was out on a mission and the crew of the other machine were watching the rugby game but fully kitted-up for any emergency. Next we saw round the Polar Air Cargo maintenance hangar and looked inside a Boeing 747 freighter. That was followed by a tour of the control tower and local radar control room.

In the afternoon we visited the Scottish and Oceanic Air Traffic Control Centre. “Scottish” covers all aircraft over the northern part of the UK and part of the North Sea as well as out to 10 degrees west. It was fascinating to watch the radar screen covering Scotland and northern England. We could see in real time a procession of about 50 airliners moving towards the Atlantic, sixty miles apart at each altitude. “Oceanic” controls all aircraft from 10 west out to the boundary with the Gander control zone half way across the Atlantic. Beyond radar limits (about 10 west) they rely on regular position reports from pilots. We saw one guy controlling 38 aircraft on his screen and he was merely covering planes between 35,000 and 36,000 feet. There was an air of quiet concentration and complete professionalism. Even the BA pilot in our group was impressed. Think of these controllers next time you fly.

We rounded off the day with a three-hour slide show complete with 1940s Luftwaffe reconnaissance photos of the airport and the nearby Clyde shipyards with every ship accurately identified by the Germans. I was pleased to note that the Johnnie Walker whisky distillery in Kilmarnock was camouflaged to protect it from air attack. Freedom and Whisky!

Do we need financial education?

Despite the boss of Barclaycard warning his own children about the use of credit cards, it looks like more and more people are getting into financial difficulty and don't understand basic principles:
The (Clydesdale) bank’s latest housebuyers’ survey found that 20 per cent of Scots mistakenly thought a 1 per cent rise in interest rates meant a 1 per cent rise in their monthly mortgage payments. But a 1 per cent rise in mortgage interest rates would actually increase the monthly repayments on a £100,000, 20-year interest only mortgage by almost 29 per cent. So one in five Scottish homeowners were underestimating the effect on their monthly budget by an average of £81.
It seems that we have an education problem:
Indeed, 60 per cent of UK consumers felt their school education did not adequately prepare them to deal with personal finance issues.

Royal Bank of Scotland, whose NatWest subsidiary has championed a financial education curriculum in English Schools would like to see the programme extended north of the Border. And one Scottish educator told Smart Money this week that she saw no reason why a basic level of financial education could not be taught in schools.

But do we need a special financial education curriculum? When I was at school we learned about interest calculations along with fractions and other elementary arithmetical concepts. Surely all children should be taught basic numeracy whether or not they might take out a mortgage one day.

Institute of Directors

I recently wrote about the Institute of Directors and expressed concern about a possible weakening of its pro-capitalist traditions. Now, there is more evidence:
RUTH LEA, one of Britain’s best known and feistiest economists, is leaving the Institute of Directors amid reports of a serious falling-out within the business organisation.
I note this quote:
Said an inside source: "The notion that she was out of touch or too right wing for members is just ludicrous. You can’t get more right wing than the grass roots membership. She was a much better known figure than the director general [George Cox], and that was bound to be a problem."
Well, that would Cox's fault, wouldn't it? But here comes the worrying part:
Some say the IoD has not enamoured itself to the Blair government with Lea’s trenchant critique of tax and regulation. The departure may reflect a desire for a less confrontational and more pliant relationship with ministers.
This member wants a more confrontational relationship with ministers.

Interesting new site

The second edition of Carnival of the Capitalists is now up.

Friday, 17 October 2003

The predator class: still hating Britain

Is anyone surprised by this proposal? A British Eurocrat believes that:
... it would be in the interests of European harmony if "offensive" British names commemorating battles lost by the French were eradicated from places such as Waterloo Station.
Perhaps Francis Carpenter should start with his own name.

How about:

Frankenreich Menuisier?

Relocating the predator class

The Scottish Executive has opened a can of worms by deciding to relocate government departments from Edinburgh:
WORKERS opposed to the relocation of the headquarters of Scottish Natural Heritage from Edinburgh to Inverness are threatening to disrupt Scottish Executive legislation, it emerged yesterday.
More of this is planned:
Last night, the Executive insisted it would continue with its broader policy of dispersal. Future targets include NHS Education in Scotland, VisitScotland, sportscotland, the Scottish Arts Council, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Education and the Mental Welfare Commission.
Few, if any, of these areas of Scottish life should be in the hands of the state. State control is the cause of centralisation. Put things back in the hands of the people and decentralisation will occur naturally.

On the other hand, my own proposed Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Politicians will be based in Central Edinburgh and will be staffed by a committee of the most robust of Freedom and Whisky's readers.

Thursday, 16 October 2003

Working for the Firm

Is it just me or do others not find it extraordinary that 11 of Scotland's top twenty-five earners are footballers or football managers? I can't believe that the same numbers would apply anywhere else. It does rather suggest that we are somewhat lacking in entrepreneurs.

Fighting back

This lady deserves an award:
An Aberdeen pensioner fought off two muggers who tried to steal her handbag during a street robbery.
It must have been her lucky day. She kept her handbag and she wasn't prosecuted for breaching the human rights of the muggers. Things are looking up.

Who? Whom?

There is a very good article in today's Times. (Registration may be required outside the UK).

Camilla Cavendish points out that 1 in 5 of us now work in the public sector - an increase of 354,000 since 1998.

But it doesn't end there:

Companies are forced to recruit all sorts of people — tax specialists, training managers, health and safety executives, employment lawyers — to keep on top of government initiatives.
Employment of these corporate bureaucrats has a disproportionate impact:
The companies that are most damaged by taxes and regulations are the small and medium-size enterprises that drive economic growth.
Ms Cavendish has an explanation:
Part of the reason small businesses suffer is that this Government, like its predecessors, finds it easier to talk to big business. Yet FTSE 100 companies can swallow costs that drive smaller ones into the ground. Large personnel departments can administer fashionable training, “diversity” and “people” programmes. The big guys tend to grin and bear it, reluctant to mar an evening at Chequers with unseemly complaints, and conscious of the opportunities that may come from being “on side”. The small firms are left to stagger on.
I wonder though if there's more to this than meets the eye. Instead of "grinning and bearing it", is it not possible that some large companies actually welcome taxes and regulations? The destruction of small and medium-sized competitors, not to mention the discouragement of potential entrepreneurs, is good news for established firms and may well outweigh the state's burdens on themselves. I don't doubt that this explains the extraordinary closeness between many large companies and an overweening government.

Tuesday, 14 October 2003


The Haloscan system recently removed old comments from this site. I have now upgraded my membership and the old comments have returned. Nevertheless,

"The comment count loader only analyzes the last 200 or so comments (500 something for premium members) so anything more than the most recent 200/500 will say 0 comments even though you can still click the link and view them all."
The comments are still there.

Save Princes Street

On matters architectural I usually find myself in Prince Charles' camp. I therefore support Malcolm Fraser's opposition to the plans for an underground shopping mall at Princes Street Gardens:
Commenting on the scheme, Mr Fraser said developers should focus their efforts on trying to improve Princes Street, rather than dig up the Gardens. "It is an entirely crass thing to do in the city, particularly when you look at Princes Street. It has a bad retail offering.

"There are nasty 60s buildings and nasty Victorian buildings, looking like broken teeth. It [the Galleries] seems entirely the wrong thing to do."

Like Fraser, I have no confidence that the unique character of the Gardens wouldn't be destroyed. I also agree that the buildings on Princes Street itself are generally eyesores and yet they look out onto the greatest urban view in the world.

Let's rebuild Princes Street in classical style.

Bring back Robert Adam, James Craig and Provost Drummond.

Read this

My friend Sean Gabb has written this excellent analysis of the problems faced by the Conservative Party. The Tories won't roll back Blairism by replacing Iain Duncan Smith or by deciding not to be the "nasty party". The situation is far more serious than most people think.

Monday, 13 October 2003

They just can't help it

Once again Glasgow's politicians show their ignorance. They seem convinced that there is a plot against Glasgow Airport:
Mr Gordon (Glasgow Council leader) has already asked Mr Stephen for a meeting on the "puzzling" use of a £6.8million Scottish Executive fund to encourage new routes.

It has failed to support any new routes from Glasgow Airport.

Forgetting for the moment whether the state should be subsidising air services, it has been made clear time and time again that the Executive's fund is available for use at any Scottish airport. The airlines decide which airport they want to fly from, not the politicians. Glasgow councillors don't seem to be able to get their heads round the idea that most economic activity is the result of a coming together of willing sellers and willing buyers. Unless something is "planned" by the state it isn't quite real. They need to realise that it's that very attitude that holds back Glasgow's economy.


Serves him right

Former MSP Duncan Hamilton is in his early thirties and was the youngest member of the Scottish parliament until he "retired" earlier this year. He fears that he is becoming a Grumpy Old Man. Well, I agree with him on this:
Equally, I am enraged by the gross discourtesy of people parking in the space I own. A trip to the supermarket becomes like a traffic version of Russian roulette - you have a one-in-six chance of getting your space back.
Right on, Duncan.

I live very close to the centre of Edinburgh and our development has a private parking space for each flat. The spaces were provided with a parking bollard but my one scraped the bottom of the car, causing considerable damage. Like some other residents, I had to have it removed. We now have a box that is filled with old newspapers, covered with plastic sheeting and with a "No Parking" sign taped to the front. If the box is not in place, a non-resident parker will use the space within minutes - despite there being a reasonably priced public car park next door. Sometimes people move the box and use our space and on one occasion the box was dumped in a nearby rubbish bin. The local police are unable to do anything because no crime has been committed - it is a "civil" matter. The city parking authorities won't help because it is private property. When I have confronted parkers they seem utterly shocked at my suggestion that they have done anything wrong although there is large sign at the entrance stating that they are entering private property and that no parking is allowed. Apparently, I am allowed to get a contractor to move any parked vehicles but at my expense!

The root of the problem is a lack of respect for property rights. Here I have to note that Mr Hamilton was a MSP who sat on the Scottish National Party benches. Like all parties other than the Conservatives, the SNP legislated for the removal of the property rights of landowners across rural Scotland. They want to go further. From the SNP's website:

The SNP has a long-standing commitment to the modernisation of Scotland’s land laws and an SNP Government would fulfil this commitment to give people control over the future of their own communities and allow greater access to Scotland’s land.
You can't have it both ways, Duncan. When you have helped take away the property rights of country folk you are in no position to moan about someone using your property.

Silly Tories

They just can't get it right, can they?

Oliver Letwin, shadow home secretary, has tried to make amends for his recent remarks:

he apologised yesterday to his local comprehensive school for saying he would rather beg than send his children there
He certainly should apologise but not for any "offence" given to his local school. He should apologise for suggesting that he was willing to earn money by begging rather than, say, flipping burgers.

Note how Tory "modernisers" reacted to Mr Letwin's observation about the school:

They also angered modernisers in the Conservative Party who are eager to reconnect with Britain’s poorer areas where support for them has dwindled to almost nothing.
That is patronising nonsense. Poor people in inner-city areas know perfectly well that most of their local schools are useless and they also know that the Tories did nothing about this when they were last in power. If the Tories want to get votes in poorer parts of the country they need to promise immediate privatisation of sink schools and the overthrow of the educational establishment that is responsible for them.

Sunday, 12 October 2003

Spy in the sky

I am a supporter of road pricing although it won't work properly until government gets out of the transport business altogether. Who knows, in a genuine free market rail may make a profitable comeback. In the meantime this idea must be rejected out-of-hand. According to the Transport Secretary (and my own MP):
Primarily, the way we expect it to happen is some sort of satellite-based system which will look at the distance you travel and will be able to differentiate things like time of day and the type of roads you’re using.
I note today that some cabinet ministers are expressing doubts about any introduction of a state identity card. Good. But I can see that the Blair clique might be able to con people into accepting ID cards as a weapon against crime, terrorism, illegal immigration or whatever. I can't though see the British people welcoming the idea that the state should be allowed to spy on our every movement, keeping records of "the distance you travel", and the "time of day and the type of roads you’re using". A surer way of stirring the forces of conservatism would be hard to imagine.

Why is investment dropping?

The Sunday Times (registration may be required outside the UK) tells us that overseas investment in Scotland is declining:
Scotland now attracts just 6.9% of the total inward investment to the United Kingdom, according to statistics released by Jim Wallace, the enterprise minister. The figure has been in steady decline after reaching a high point of about 20% in the early 1990s.

The executive’s own research showed that Scottish businesses face one of the highest tax burdens in Europe.

Our high taxation is clearly one reason for the decline but I wonder if the establishment of the Scottish parliament is also responsible. Since 1999 the world must surely have noticed that almost all of Scotland's politicians are confirmed statists, regulators and tax collectors par excellence. And yet the same politicians seem to have a vague idea that new entrepreneurs are a necessity:
Ministers want more children to regard successful entrepreneurs such as Tom Hunter, right, as role models in order to encourage positive attitudes to business at an early age. The Executive is worried by research, including a survey last year, which found that the fear of failure remains a major barrier in the minds of many would-be businessmen and women. The survey found this fear was greater in Scotland than in almost any other small nation examined. Ministers hope that by fostering confidence in, and understanding of, business in the young, they are more likely to be the wealth creators of tomorrow.
The Scottish Executive, and most of the opposition, wants to have it both ways. They want Scotland to enjoy the wealth created by businesspeople but at the same time they have a horror of any sort of inequality of outcome. But it's one or the other guys. We can all be equally poor or differently prosperous. I know which I prefer.

Thursday, 9 October 2003

How IDS can become Prime Minister

The Daily Mail today (no link) has an article about two families: the Bardsleys who get £37,402 a year in state benefits and the Sprys who earn £27,000 a year after tax. Mrs Spry, who has two children, works 45 hours a week in two separate jobs and her husband was working 70 hours a week as a nightclub manager until recently but has now re-mortgaged the family home to open his own restaurant. The Bardsleys had five children when Mr Bardsley lost his job as a tree surgeon and they have subsequently had three more.

Mrs Bardsley, whose family spends £140 a week on cigarettes and £70 a week on bingo, says:

“It is not like we are defrauding the system – we are entitled to all that money.

People should leave us alone and get a life if they have a problem with us having benefits. I am an adult with a mind of my own and if I choose to have eight children, I know I can look after them, love them and provide for them, so what is the problem?"

Well, the problem is not that Mrs Bardsley seems to think that she provides for her children when they are actually funded by you, me and the Sprys. The problem is that there appears to be absolutely no opposition to this kind of outrage from any mainstream politician. If Iain Duncan Smith were to tell the Conservative Party Conference that he personally would go round to the Bardsley’s house and kick them out within one hour of becoming Prime Minister he would probably win Arnie-style.

Subsidies galore

Have a look at the fourth letter on this page:
.. it is proposed that subsidised wind farms replace the subsidised forestry that supplanted the subsidised sheep farming. The objections to this are based on the effect windmills might have on subsidised tourism.
How very true.

And down at the bottom of the Royal Mile they are making a subsidised film about a subsidised building that will (eventually) contain subsidised politicians on a site that, believe it or not, used to be a non-subsidised brewery. Well, perhaps I subsidised it myself on the odd occasion.

Wednesday, 8 October 2003

And now, the movie

The film being made of the Scottish parliament building is mirroring its subject:
The film has also been hit by a series of budget increases which mirror those of the Holyrood project itself. Originally planned with a budget of £370,000, with the Scottish Arts Council and BBC Scotland sharing the costs, the latest estimate is £820,000. Scottish Screen joined as an additional funding partner later on.
Yet again people are angry but I fear for the worst. The building is ten times over budget and the initial expected cost of the film was £370,000. Surely it will end up costing £3,700,000.

Where's the Terminator when you need him?

Tuesday, 7 October 2003

Anti-social behaviour: Who's to blame?

No sooner had I written the previous post when I noticed this article in The Herald:
A remarkable 90% of Scots have expressed support for Jack McConnell's emphasis on young people in the Scottish Executive's moves to tackle anti-social behaviour. The high level of endorsement, recorded by NFO System Three in a poll for The Herald, is found across every political party, class, geographic region, and age group. Support never falls below 85%.
The high level of support doesn't surprise me at all although I'll be amazed if anything meaningful is actually done. Already, the usual suspects are moaning:
The surprise outcome last night provoked a furious debate between politicians and campaigners, with Mr Mc-Connell and his ministers being accused of generating undue concern about the levels of youth crime in the run-up to the new anti-social behaviour bill.
I'm not at all surprised to read that Socialist Party MSPs, Professors of Criminology and single issue pressure groups are completely out of touch with the majority - the careers of these people would not exist if crime were properly dealt with.

I have just finished reading A Brief History of Crime by Peter Hitchens of the Mail on Sunday. It is an admirable survey of why crime is rising and who is to blame.

Walk on, walk on with hope in your heart (click to hear Elvis!)

I think that this guy is a nutter but what harm is he doing?
The man dubbed the "naked rambler" has been remanded in custody after appearing in court in the Highlands.

Stephen Gough, who is trying to walk naked from Land's End to John O'Groats, appeared at Dingwall Sheriff Court on Monday

The Scottish police and courts seem to be spending vast sums of our money harassing Mr Gough who has almost completed his Land's End to John O' Groats walk. Most of us would much prefer these resources to be devoted to catching burglars rather than giving additional publicity to the naked rambler.

Monday, 6 October 2003

New blog with Scottish connections

I haven't mentioned the new Adam Smith Blog although I did add a link from here a few weeks ago. Have a look at the blog: today there is a post by Alex Singleton about the possibility of Scottish independence at the instigation of England.

We don't want a socialist IoD

I was rather disappointed to read this in today's Herald:
THE new head of the Scottish section of the Institute of Directors has called for a halt to the "unrelenting torrent of abuse" that has been directed at Scottish Enterprise, the economic development agency currently looking for a new chief executive.
New IoD boss David Watt goes on to say:
"Criticism is not enough," Watt said. "You have to make alternative suggestions, and so far not many people have come up with them."
The Institute of Directors is normally very robust in defending business and regularly calls for reductions in the size of government. Alternative suggestions have been made for Scottish Enterprise: abolish it and use the savings to reduce business taxation in Scotland. I do hope that the IoD isn't becoming part of the leftist establishment.

The state is the problem

The third letter here is from Andrew Duffin, a regular F&W commentator

Elect your local sheriff

Scottish Tory leader David McLetchie will be speaking at the UK Conservative conference in Blackpool. He will be opposing the creation of regional assemblies in England. No surprise there but I was intrigued by this:
The Scottish Tory leader will also refer to reforming the police service to make it more locally accountable, although he will make no mention of the proposals to be launched this week by the shadow home secretary for smaller police forces in England and Wales with elected police chiefs in the manner of the sheriff system used in the United States.

An aide to the Scottish leader said that this was not being considered north of the border, where the problems were similar to elsewhere but the solutions would be different.

So what "different" solutions are to be advocated for Scotland? This looks like a cop-out - no pun intended but the sanction of being voted out by the people is precisely what should be faced by senior police officers and indeed judges.

Sunday, 5 October 2003

More on vouchers

The Scotsman has really got the voucher bug this week with Alex Massie following up previous articles and Saturday's editorial also covering the topic.

According to the editorial:

The arguments against vouchers are twofold. First, it would benefit middle-class families who have the knowledge and mobility to use them to access the best schools geographically. Second, that stripping a failing local school of pupils and resources only makes matters worse for the children left behind in it.
These two objections are satisfactorily disposed of but I was rather surprised that the editorial didn't discuss the primary argument that has been raised against education vouchers by free market advocates in the USA. What concerns American libertarians is this: Will it not be only a matter of time before the state increases regulation of private schools that accept education vouchers thus reducing the freedom and attraction of such institutions? He who pays the piper calls the tune. This is, I believe, a real danger although I expect that British private schools are already subject to considerably greater government oversight than those in the US. Nevertheless, I do believe that a pilot voucher scheme should be tried in Scotland as the initial step towards breaking the stultifying control of our schools by members of the predator class.

Saturday, 4 October 2003

Why we are free to blog

This is a photograph that I took three weeks ago at the Battle of Britain air display at RAF Leuchars

Friday, 3 October 2003

Education update

I have now noticed that the Scotsman carries an editorial today in favour of vouchers. They also write:
For instance, Judith Gillespie, of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, says: "It’s the children who achieve - the schools don’t deliver their performance. It is nonsense to suggest that a school where 40 per cent pass three Highers is better than one where 20 per cent do." Fortunately, most parents don’t agree with Ms Gillespie’s strange notion that the quality of a school’s teachers or management is irrelevant to their children’s performance.
The Scotsman is noticing the strange beliefs of Ms Gillespie that I commented upon here

What price education?

Despite the politically motivated trashing of the Scottish education system, parents still seek the best for their children:
Parents are paying up to 120 per cent above the asking price to secure a property in the catchment area of state schools with the best reputation.
As a property expert explains:
Jamie Crocket, a valuation manager for Glasgow Solicitors Property Centre, said: "To be blunt: in certain areas schools drive the market."

Some parents are calculating the cost of private education at about £6,000 a year for each child - and deciding it would be cheaper to pay an inflated price for a house near a good state school.

Finding £6,000 a year to educate each child would certainly seem to be beyond the means of all but the wealthiest. However, we need to look a bit more carefully at the figures.

In the current issue of Economic Affairs there is an excellent article by James Tooley of the University of Newcastle. Mr Tooley writes:

The average cost of private education in this country is about £5,000 per year, yet only about £2,900 is made available for each state-schooled youngster, so where would the difference be made up? The answer is easy: if you throw in all the costs of the state bureaucracies, the Department for Education and Skill (DfES), Ofsted, the Teacher Training Agency (TTA), the Qualification and Curriculum Authority (QCA), et cetera ad nauseum, and divide by the total number of pupils, then you get to precisely that magic figure of £5,000!
Clearly Mr Tooley is writing about England, but I have found these statistics covering Scotland and have been able to calculate that the average direct cost per pupil (primary and secondary) is £2,860 per year - almost exactly the same as Mr Tooley's £2,900 for England. As well as excluding the costs of the state bureaucracy, the Scottish figures:
"may not necessarily include all the costs of running the school. Other costs relating to the school may also have been incurred during the period, for example, capital spending or a proportion of total education authority expenditure on services such as those provided by advisers and psychologists."
So it looks as though we could give every Scottish parent an annual voucher for £5,000 per child to be spent on private education with no additional cost to the taxpayer. If private schools had 100% of the market instead of less than 20% I could easily see prices dropping from £6,000 to £5,000 per pupil or even lower. Let's go for it.

Thursday, 2 October 2003

Let's save a bit of money

Brian Wilson, the MP for Cunninghame North, has spoken out against list MSPs - those elected to the Scottish parliament under the proportional representation system. Naturally, his targets have responded:
He was immediately accused of "throwing a tantrum", and his comments provoked an angry backlash from list MSPs, who said they were much more useful than him - and doing more work. Mr Wilson exposed the tension between those elected on party lists and constituency members, as well as the distrust that still exists between MPs and MSPs.
I find myself in unusual agreement with Colin Fox who is a "list" MSP for the Scottish Socialist Party:
"The truth is list MSPs for the SSP are very busy both with casework and campaigns in their region. Compare them to Westminster MPs with little to do and we can see the difference."
I don't of course approve of any of Mr Fox's "casework" and "campaigns" but he is right to draw attention to the fact that Scotland's Westminster MPs have little to do given that so much domestic governance is now devolved to the Edinburgh legislature. We need to make two changes. First, Scottish MPs should be banned from voting at Westminster on any matters that have been devolved to Edinburgh and second, the salaries of Scottish MPs should be halved to take account of their reduced responsibilities. What possible objection could be made by Brian Wilson?