Monday, 31 May 2004

God looks down on Belgium!

No, this isn't about the EU. But there again, maybe it is.

Back in December I wrote about Alexander McCall Smith's No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency books and noted the libertarian theme. Each day the Scotsman is publishing an episode of a "daily novel" by Mr McCall Smith. I believe that's how writers like Dickens published their stories in the nineteenth century. 44 Scotland Street portrays the lives of the residents of a typical block of flats in the Edinburgh New Town, and it's become the first thing I read in the paper each day.

Today one of the residents has gently teased her visitor, Angus Lordie, as being "a well-known failure, a roue and a painter of dubious talent". But Angus has a talent:

"Did I tell you, by the way, that I composed a hymn about Belgium? The Church of Scotland has been revising its hymnary and was asking for more modern contributions. I composed one of which I was rightly rather proud. I called it God looks down on Belgium."

"And the words?" asked Domenica.

Angus Lordie cleared his throat. "The first verse goes as follows," he began:

God's never heard of Belgium,
But loves it just the same,
For God is kind
And doesn't mind -
He's not impressed with fame.

Domenica looked at Angus Lordie and raised an eyebrow. "Did the Church of Scotland use it?" she asked.

"Inexplicably, no," said Angus Lordie. "I had a very polite letter back, but I fear that they feel that it's not suitable. I suppose it's something to do with comity within Europe. We have to pretend to take Belgium seriously."

Surely this means that God is a Eurosceptic, even if the Kirk hasn't quite got the message yet.

Get your chequebooks ready

Back in March I called for a statue of Adam Smith to be erected in Edinburgh.

One of the comments was from Eamonn Butler of the Adam Smith Institute who tells us of this plan to erect a statue of the great man. I was pleased to make a small contribution to the David Hume statue and, when the time comes, will make a larger one to the Smith fund. The Smith statue is to be created by Sandy Stoddart who also gave us the Hume statue in the Royal Mile as well as the one of US Founding Father John Witherspoon, which can be seen at Paisley and Princeton Universities.

Got enough now Gordon?

It seems appropriate to be filling in a tax return this morning given that yesterday was Tax Freedom Day. As the Adam Smith Institute points out, we're not really free until 11th June if we take government borrowing into account, as we must. Incidentally, I wonder what on earth the US government's fiscal deficit is doing to its real TFD.

In today's Scotsman, George Kerevan writes about Tax Freedom Day and calls for more transparency in tax matters.

In fact, because we don’t have transparency regarding the value of our taxes, the political discussion on tax levels has been virtually stagnant for 20 years. For Lib Dems, SNP, SSP, Labour, Greens and Scottish Tories, the mantra is "up, up, up". For English Tories, it is "cut, cut, cut". The tax debate has to be more sophisticated.
I'm not so sure that the English Tories are shouting for tax cuts, but it's certainly true that their Scottish colleagues aren't. What are they afraid of? There's a gap in the Scottish political marketplace for a low-tax, small-government party that also respects civil liberties.

Of course, I believe that Scotland's Tax Freedom Day should be no later than 25th January when it can be appropriately celebrated at a Burns Supper:

"Freedom and Whisky gang thegither"
After a few years we can move the great day back to 1st January when the taxman will be too inebriated to collect anything at all.

Sunday, 30 May 2004

They have no shame

Yet another two fingers to the Scottish taxpayer:
THE Holyrood project was at the centre of a new costs row last night when it emerged that at least £100,000 of taxpayers’ money is being spent on a leading QC to defend the Executive’s interests at the official inquiry into the fiasco.

Opposition politicians demanded answers from ministers over the decision to hire Laura Dunlop, a senior advocate, for the last eight months for around £2,000 a day, when the Executive already employs about 100 full-time lawyers in its legal department.

Exactly. What are those 100 in-house lawyers doing with our money? And is it right that the Executive be represented at the taxpayers' expense anyway? What If the Holyrood Inquiry finds that named individuals who are members of the Executive are at fault. Will they have to pay their own legal costs? Don't hold your breath.

Wednesday, 26 May 2004

Confessions of a racist

Yes, it’s time to own up. I have just been watching the BBC’s Reporting Scotland programme. Tonight they were covering the “fringe” parties contesting the elections for the European Parliament.

I almost fell off my chair when I heard this about the British National Party: “The BNP is no stranger to controversy or protest. It maintains that it isn’t racist, though it’s opposed to immigration, the Euro and the European Union."

So there we have it. According to the taxpayer-funded BBC, opposition to the Euro and the EU is racist. I wonder how "neutral" the rest of their election reporting will be.

You can watch the segment here (about 16 minutes into the programme), although I think that tonight's broadcast is only available until this time tomorrow. I have of course made a tape recording.

New Scottish Political Party

I have been sent this information about the Scottish Enterprise Party. Their website should be active in June.

Coming up fast on the inside lane is a new right of centre Scottish political party to re-home lost souls in an ever increasingly Socialist la la land.

WHY? The CONSERVATIVE & UNIONIST PARTY. Apart from being unlikely to be forgiven in a generation or more for throwing our fishing industry to the European Union Wolves and trialing the Poll Tax on Scotland against the Treaty Of Union illegally they are basically invisible, off the Scottish political radar, and discredited.

The SNP. Were they not the ones the Labour party jibed at because they were the 'Tartan Tories'. Yes indeed they were but not anymore nor have they been for a long time because now they are seriously into Socialism and rather too busy competing for the same voters as Labour and the SSP, how smart is that. Another example of divide and rule - some strategy, but wherefore poor Scotland meantime?, Well she is stuck in the EU and the SNP want to keep her there by trading Westminster for Bruxxels - "Independence in Europe". no doubt there is some logic in that but it is buried too deep for lesser mortals to comprehend.

The LABOUR. See SNP above, plus also just another UK Unionist branch party in thrall to the numpty brigade. A world beater of an original policy from Dear Leader McConnell, ' encourage immigration overseas people ' to underpin our ageing population. Perhaps improving conditions so that our own smart, innovative, enterprising and educated STAY here rather than leave would possible make more sense but then that means sorting out the mess and slaughtering some sacred Socialist cows. Does the First Minister imagine for one tiny minute that any smart, innovative, enterprising intelligent people he seems to want to attract will not give us the once over before committing themselves and more to the point also probably ask themselves the question, 'why are so may smart intelligent, innovative and enterprising intelligent Scots leaving in the first place?' Answer in a word "Socialism".

SCOTTISH SOCIALISTS. Should this not read 'SCOTTISH COMMUNISTS'. Why the need to be coy about it? They say ever village has its idiot, well if Scotland could be regarded as the metaphorical village then the SSP must surely rank as the metaphorical village idiots.

GREENS. More Socialists but happily flitting from flower to flower in la la land, made all the easier on the salaries they get from the Scottish taxpayer. Better just to draw a discrete veil over them so that they can come up with more radical and valuable policies like 'same sex marriages'.

CASUAL OBSERVATION . In the absence of a single example, anywhere in the world, of a successfully operating Socialist economy , current or previously, what precisely is it that these people see or know that the rest of us have missed? Perhaps we should be told by the Brothers and Comrades because if it such good news one would imagine that they have a duty to share it with their fellow countrymen and then we can all pull together and all of us can then be able to afford our own sun beds.

AND QUERY. The SSP, LABOUR, GREENS and the SNP have some great ideas on projects to which funds will be allocated however unless we have missed something somewhere could we someday hopefully learn and be enlightened by any one or all of them as to where these funds will be forthcoming to pay for it all?. It wouldn't by any chance happen to be the Taxpayer would it, i.e. you and me? The Liberal Democrats on the other hand agree with all of the above today but under pressure tomorrow will agree to something else - as in the meek shall inherit the earth, if that's OK with you chaps. Last but not least the Conservatives have given the current situation a little more though and have added the prefix 'Scottish' to their name whilst functioning here in the run-up to this election or the next or for as long as it is expedient.

A functioning website at is planned to be up and running by early June. Meantime enquiries, comment, support and of course the probable batch of incoherent anti rhetoric to The SEP will however do its best to stick to a realistic agenda to support individuals and companies to achieve their potential for the benefit of the Scottish Nation by promoting less taxation, repatriated tax collection, less bureaucracy in our lives and promoting Scottish culture and heritage, for a start we wouldn't take years to provide statutory support for the Gaelic language, it would be done right away as too support for Doric if demanded.

Finally NO EURO and OUT OF THE EU, yesterday would be nice but we will settle for tomorrow.

Can I leave you with a couple of interesting little facts. Recently coming to light from the Socialist government of Germany due to the Germans having the highest unemployment of under 25's in the EU a recent law was passed by Herr Schroder's government which is designed to address this problem [ their heart is in the right place ]. All companies, businesses and firms in Germany with 15 or more employees MUST employ and train one under 25 and so forth in any other multiples of 15. Another law was also recently passed legalising Brothels throughout Germany, OK you are ahead of me, those of you who haven't worked it go and lay down in a dark room until you do. That folks is just one example of the EU which Blair et al wants us to be "at the heart of", maybe we should pass on this especially when Hans Fischler the EU's Fisheries Minister is from Austria which when anyone last looked at an Atlas hasn't got a maritime coast but heh it isn't a perfect world is it? Why bother its only the Scottish fisheries industry and PEOPLE who will suffer.

Tuesday, 25 May 2004

Brassed Off Britain

I have been watching the latest programme in this series. Tonight dealt with call centres. Poor customer service was a major complaint:
In some cases, call centre operators are judged on the number of calls they take rather than the customer service they give and have a standard script they have to stick to.

When Jackie Barnes bought a bike from bidup TV and it did not arrive, she phoned the call centre, but was passed from one person to another as no-one could help.

Call centre operators often rely on scripted answers, so when Frank O'Hare tried to phone the Working Tax Credit Office with a unique query, they were unable to give him a simple answer to his question.

When I was living in London I decided to switch from satellite to cable television. Sky TV screwed up the cancellation of service and failed to credit me with the appropriate refund. If I recall correctly I was owed about £10. When I was eventually able to get through to the call centre in Dunfermline I was given the usual lame explanations and decided to go for the nuclear option:

"May I speak to a supervisor?"

"I'm sorry sir, there isn't one on duty at the moment."

"Let me put it this way, if you don't put me on to a supervisor I shall go to the police station and get them to issue an international arrest warrant for Rupert Murdoch on a charge of theft."

The line went quiet for about three seconds, and the supervisor came on the phone.

"We're so sorry about this problem sir. I shall credit your card immediately and you can phone VISA in a few minutes to confirm that the refund has gone through. Have a nice day (or whatever)."

No hard feelings Mr Murdoch. A consumer's got to do what a consumer's got to do.

Monday, 24 May 2004

Wind power and energy

It looks as though we are going to pay a lot for the Executive's energy policy:
ENERGY giants Scottish Power and Scottish & Southern Electricity have approached the utility regulator with proposals to charge customers an extra £1 billion to help meet government targets for renewable energy.
The David Hume Institute has a new paper on the economics of wind power that is available as a PDF file.

Over on the Mises Blog there's an interesting ongoing discussion on the energy question.

No Logo

Why on earth has the Scottish Executive spent £300,000 researching a new Scottish logo? Note the standard NuLab response to criticism:
An Executive spokeswoman said it was looking at ways of changing how people perceive Scotland.

"Scotland’s traditional image is known and loved, but it is important that for Scotland to compete, we build on this image."

If the Executive wants to change "how people perceive Scotland" then they should stop wasting public money on boondoggles of this sort. Sadly, we're now known throughout the world for the vast overspend on the Holyrood project. There's nothing wrong with the traditional Scottish image of honesty, reliability and financial prudence. Don't let Labour ruin it.

Sunday, 23 May 2004

Adam Smith

Andy Wood has posted some photographs including several he has taken of Adam Smith's birthplace in Kirkcaldy.

Worried about your credit card?

Then take a look at this.

Friday, 21 May 2004

God and Mammon

"No man's life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session."

- Mark Twain

I'm not sure about the ladies, but we Scotsmen are safe this week. The Edinburgh Parliament:

has "left the building" and given it back to its owners, the Church of Scotland.

Yes, it's the week of the Kirk's General Assembly:

The Kirk has never quite got its collective head around the money question, although it's worth noting that its period of greatest influence was when Scotland enjoyed a more-or-less free market economy.

On Wednesday, the Assembly heard of a way to make money:

QUESTIONS were raised yesterday over whether the Church should sell advertising space on its website.

The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland heard that the Kirk’s communications board is considering the plan as part of efforts to balance its budget.

Sounds good to me. But, of course, there was controversy. It's OK for the Kirk to have money, but earning it?
"The board mentions very briefly in its report that it is considering the commercial potential of selling advertising space on the website to help meet its budgetary shortfall," he said.

"This, I feel, is a major development or departure of principle and content from the present agreed format of the Church’s website.

"But I believe it will also need to determine on what pages it would be appropriate to place any advertisements."

Dr Wyllie went on to question whether such advertisements should be from building societies or from financial services companies.

Does the Kirk keep its own money under the Moderator's bed? That would explain why it's running a bit short of cash. More likely, its diminishing funds are kept in a - pause for shocking word - bank. In fact, they're probably invested with one of Edinburgh's large financial institutions that make this such a prosperous city and which employ many of the Kirk's own members. So why not make money by letting financial services companies advertise on the Church's own website?

I rather suspect that the Kirk hasn't yet got over the events of May 1988 when a certain Mrs Thatcher addressed the General Assembly:

This landmark defence of free market capitalism from a Christian perspective was remarkable not only in that it came from the leader of the United Kingdom. It was further astounding to see a woman sermonising to the gathered patriarchy of left-wing ecclesiocracy in Scotland. A memorable sight to all concerned.
It's time for the Kirk to "move on" and recognise that capitalism and religion can go together. Put those ads on the website. A Scottish Church should be known for financial and religious soundness.

Thursday, 20 May 2004

You couldn't make it up

I'm afraid that this is all too true:
THE beleaguered Holyrood project was at the centre of a new row last night, after a leading architectural writer claimed he had been banned from attending a press preview because he had been critical of the building in the past.
After politicians complained to the Presiding Officer,
Mr Reid told MSPs that the Scottish Parliament had merely been the "facilitators" of the event, which was organised jointly by Bovis and RMJM.
That's not the point. I would have no objection to the architects banning a journalist from a privately owned and financed property launch, but this is our parliament built with our money. Perhaps the whole Holyrood project really is simply part of the Edinburgh Festival. The Comedy Festival, that is.

The truth dawns

I've seen quite a few opinion polls showing a sizable majority favouring the introduction of identity surveillance cards. But all is not lost:
Some 61 per cent of people back the plan, but nearly 28 per cent say they feel so strongly opposed they would join street marches to protest, and six per cent claim they would be willing to go to jail rather than carry a compulsory card.

The YouGov poll, commissioned by Privacy International, a civil rights group, also reveals that 16 per cent of respondents say they would take part in "civil disobedience" against David Blunkett’s controversial cards.

This is a good sign:
Resistance to the card is highest among the young: 34 per cent of under-30s say they are "strongly opposed".
Perhaps IT-literate younger people have more understanding of the danger posed by a government-run computerised surveillance system. Older folk may think that nothing more threatening than those rather amateurish wartime identity cards is being proposed. Not so. This most authoritarian of governments wants to know everything about us, at all times and in the fullest detail. I also find it most offensive that private companies are willing to sell their country's birthright for a few million pounds.

Monetary confusion

Interest rates could easily have increased by .50% last time.

I don't really understand this comment:

ECONOMISTS began to fret yesterday that interest rates will rise even higher than 5.25 per cent, after the Bank of England said it had considered shocking consumers with a 50 basis point hike in interest rates this month.
Surely economists should want the "correct" interest rate, and that may not necessarily be a low one. It rather looks as if those "fretting" economists haven't thought things through properly. Of course, in a sane world interest rates wouldn't be imposed by a politically appointed committee: they would be set by the market.

Wednesday, 19 May 2004


I paid a brief visit to Keswick yesterday and saw some of the sights:

I understand that there are some lakes and hills there as well....

Islanders want to buy-out Uist...

... says the headline. But it's not correct. The islanders want me to buy the island for them. Yes, this is another of those taxpayer-funded "community" purchase scams. If people in rural areas weren't taxed so much to pay for urban road schemes they probably wouldn't feel it necessary to seek public funding for their own lifestyles.

Monday, 17 May 2004

Let's all go on welfare!

Now it's tax breaks for nannies. Why not simply cut taxes and let parents pay for their own nannies? Ah, but that wouldn't advance the project:
Gordon Brown, unlike his next-door neighbour, is an ideologue. Even his handouts are part of his social engineering project. He loves tax credits because they make more people pensioners of the state. Child tax credit now embraces more than six million families: parents with combined incomes as high as £66,000 a year are eligible. Almost one British adult in three now receives some kind of benefit.
Sixty-six grand a year and on welfare! The world has truly gone mad. No doubt I'll eventually get my share: a bus pass, subsidised electricity and the state pension. But I'd much rather give them up in exchange for keeping more of my own money and making my own provisions. Am I the last person who thinks this way or am I being kept on as the taxpayer of last resort?

Nanny speaks

I wonder why some people just love to tell others how to run their lives. A perennial favourite for Scottish politicians is the desire to regulate drinking:
CATHY Jamieson, the justice minister, has pledged new laws to tackle Scotland’s "uneasy relationship with drink" as she prepares to unveil the Executive’s proposed new liquor-licensing regime.

At a conference in Edinburgh today she will publish plans to scrap statutory permitted hours for alcohol sales and to introduce new measures to tackle under-age and binge drinking.

Of course it is proper for the authorities to take action against drunken yobbery in the streets although hardly any of our police officers are actually working those streets at any given time.

It's worth asking though why the UK doesn't have a "continental-style approach to alcohol consumption". I remain convinced that the reason is connected with our politicians' hatred of their own country, its traditions and its history. However much we may (rightly) criticise the greater degree of statism on the continent, I do not get the impression that French, German, Italian and Spanish politicians hate their own countries. I believe that all too many Labour activists and MPs do hate Britain. For more details read this excellent article by Sean Gabb. It must be terribly demoralising to grow up in a Britain that is loathed by its leaders. I have little doubt that the violence and drunkenness that can be seen on the streets of any British town or city have their origins in the cultural destruction described by Mr Gabb. So Ms Jamieson, if you want to live in a society that has "continental-style" modes of behaviour, look to the beliefs of your own party, not to the minutiae of the licensing regime.

Saturday, 15 May 2004

Too much tax on Tayside

The Scottish Conservatives are meeting in Dundee. Yesterday, their conference was addressed by Michael Howard. Naturally, he attacked the Labour party:
The Conservative leader said the Scottish Parliament fiasco was a "monument" to Labour's record of "tax, spend, borrow and waste" during a speech in which he claimed his party had learnt enough "humility" to succeed in Scotland.
Well, yes - the Scottish Parliament building is an easy target for any opposition party, but that's (hopefully) a one-off. What about Labour's wider programme?
Mr Howard promised that a Conservative government would lower taxes without compromising public services. "We want people to keep more of the money they earn because we believe they are better at spending it than politicians. I don't apologise for my ambition to take less of your money. We know you can have lower taxes but still deliver first rate services."
Hmm. Lower taxes - fine. Keeping our own money - very good. But what are we to make of "without compromising public services" and "delivering first rate services"? My local pub delivers first rate services and does so to the "public". I can buy first rate clothes, cars and catering without any involvement of the state whatsoever. What Michael Howard is saying is that he can cut taxes and still deliver top-quality, state-funded health and education services through the state. I don't believe it. I'm fully aware of the supply side economic theory that says that lower taxes can lead to greater growth and a consequent increase in total tax take. There is some truth in that theory, but do we want the taxman to collect more of our money? I think not. The Leviathan state runs almost all of our health and education services. That's why they don't work. Health spending per-capita in Scotland is higher than elsewhere in the UK and customer satisfaction is lower. Many of our children are unable to read or write properly. That's shameful. Tinkering around with health and education "passports" isn't enough. We need to privatise all of the delivery of health and education and, as much as possible, let people purchase their own "services" with their own money. I think that the Tories are afraid of stating the truth - that large numbers of bureaucrats will have to be fired if we are to see any improvement in health and education. Here's a suggested pledge for Mr Howard: buy up all of the advertising pages in the Society pages of the Guardian for his first term as prime minister and leave them blank.

Thursday, 13 May 2004

A new link...

... has been added to the Department of Social Scrutiny and to them I give credit for this recent photograph of the House of Commons:

Lies, damned lies and statistics

This can't be true. Politicians are being accused of fiddling the numbers:
More than 4,000 new patients were not added to the official list for waiting times over a three-month period - a 53 per cent increase on the same period the previous year.

Patients are not counted in figures for waiting times if they cannot have an operation for personal or medical reasons or if their treatment is considered a low clinical priority, such as a tattoo removal.

The Patients’ Association, is concerned about what's going on:
"The NHS is used as a political football and bounced around by politicians for their own ends. This damages the confidence that patients have in the NHS as well as staff morale and I think that the public is often suspicious when the NHS comes out with performance figures."
I'm afraid that the "fiddling" isn't confined to the NHS. I can exclusively reveal that several thousand Conservative votes were not counted at the last election because their inclusion would have breached the quota for representation of retired colonels. Similarly, many, many LibDem votes went unrecorded - remember New Labour (TM) is trying to free the country from the menace of facial hair and excessive sandal wearing. And the comparative lack of council estates in rural northeast Scotland sadly meant that lots of SNP votes also had to be discounted. I mean, some of those so-called "Nationalists" are really Tartan Tories, aren't they? Yes it's much better if we just allow Tony's cronies to decide who wins elections.

It's for our own good.

Tuesday, 11 May 2004

Phew, what a scorcher!

Goodness me. The temperature in Glasgow yesterday was 72F.

In support of the world's cheapest airline

The Ryanair boss has been visiting my favourite airport to open his new maintenance base. Mr O'Leary has built his airline by cutting costs to the bone. At Prestwick, he was trying to reduce costs further:
But he warned Ryanair would halt all further job creation at the facility until a row over "ridiculous rates" was settled.

The airline boss said a rates bill of £110,000 from South Ayrshire Council had put future investment and job creation at risk.

He said: "The local council will tell us it's not their fault, it's the government's and the government will tell us it's not their fault, it's the local council.

"But somewhere in the middle is us and we need this thing sorted out or we are not going to continue to stimulate jobs and invest millions of pounds here if we are going to be met with bills for 110 grand."

Fair enough - that's how O'Leary bargains, and good luck to him.

The local council says that its hands are tied:

Tom Cairns, chief executive of South Ayrshire Council, said: "The council has no discretion whatsoever in this matter."

A spokesman for the Scottish Executive said an appeal process was open to any business who wished to contest the rates and that Ryanair had done so and were now trying to reach an agreement with assessors.

I can understand why it may not be possible - or fair - to give Ryanair a cut-price deal that's not available to other local businesses. What doesn't seem to have been questioned is why business rates are so much higher in Scotland than in England. I believe that shops in Princes Street, for example, pay far higher rates than similarly sized properties in London's Oxford Street. The explanation, of course, is those Jurassic politicians mentioned in the previous post. Less socialism = less tax = more jobs. It's simple really.

In search of monsters

Glasgow University scientists have made an interesting discovery off the west coast:
The footprints of a carnivorous dinosaur that hunted in packs and ate its own young have been discovered on the Isle of Skye.
It seems that these beasties were active on Skye 170 million years ago. I'm not quite sure why the palaeontologists needed to travel all the way to Portree, no doubt at the taxpayers' expense. There is a similar family of ancient veloceraptors right in the centre of Glasgow itself. It's been there forever, it destroys its young, and, if you haven't guessed, it's called the Scottish Labour Party, although I don't think that its members are capable of moving at nine miles per hour.

Monday, 10 May 2004

More elitists please

David Blunkett has been visiting Scotland. There was a bit of a row over his plans to introduce those damned ID surveillance cards - the Scottish Executive doesn't want cards to be necessary for access to NHS services north of the border. Blunkett thinks that would lead to an influx of "health tourists" to Scotland. He's probably right. I imagine that Jack McConnell will back down on this just as soon as Tony gets round to phoning him.

There's more harmony on the question of immigration. McConnell wants to encourage overseas students to remain in Scotland after they graduate and Blunkett is happy to help:

Overseas students who graduate in Scotland will only be allowed to stay in the UK if they promise not to move to England for a set period.

Scotland's population decline has been highlighted as "the greatest threat to the country's future prosperity" by First Minister Jack McConnell.

But why is our population declining? What's different about Scotland from other countries in Europe?

The difference is of course that we are dominated by a political and cultural class that hates any success that could be defined as "elitist". That was made wonderfully clear in the Nicola Benedetti affair:

WHEN Michelle McManus won ITV’s Pop Idol last year, Jack McConnell let it be known that he had phoned in to vote, doing his best to help the Glasgow singer win the talent contest.

The First Minister also sent her a "good luck" note before the final and, apparently, gave her a peck on the cheek when he met her, before adding: "I know you can do it."

Last Sunday night, Nicola Benedetti, 16, a violinist from Ayrshire, became the first Scot to win the coveted BBC Young Musician of the Year title.

Such is her talent as a musician that she won one of the most competitive prizes in British music with relative ease, and she is now expected to be signed up with a £1 million recording contract.

However, for Nicola, there was no note of support from the First Minister before the competition, which was held in Scotland, at the Usher Hall, Edinburgh.

Much has been written about this, but it's been widely noted that Ms Benedetti's problem is that she had to work tremendously hard for many, many years to become Britain's best young classical musician. In other words, she is an elitist. Worse perhaps: her father is a self-made millionaire and he sent his daughter to a private school! Oh the shame of it. And she probably speaks fluent Italian too.

As Bill Jamieson pointed out when writing about Mrs Thatcher and Scotland:

I see little prospect of any change. Indeed, the trashing of her legacy is a vital task of the government class she so resolutely opposed. She held out against the relentless expansion of government and the public-sector administrative class. To these interests, Thatcherism was and remains the sworn enemy. Today, government is bigger than ever. And the size and remit of the regulatory state is growing as never before.
By all means celebrate when foreign graduates choose to remain in Scotland. But we really do need to prevent so many young Scots from fleeing the country as soon as they can. Let's reverse that expansion of government, slash the civil service payroll and burn the regulation handbook. Like her father, Nicola will do just fine without the "help" of the Scottish political class. Politicians really are the problem, not the solution.

Charity threatens 70,000 Scottish livelihoods

Oxfam is whining about the "rights" of homeworkers:
The charity claims that people doing manual work at home for high street retailers are being exploited like workers in Asia.

"They get away with it because homeworkers are not entitled to the same labour rights other workers have. Ensuring the minimum wage is paid is also key."

Ah yes. Those poor Asian workers, who are now able to eat a decent meal, clothe their children, buy cars and, increasingly, employ under-educated westerners. Stop "exploiting" them NOW. Send them back to the paddy fields. Why not reincarnate Chairman Mao while we're at it and let him murder another few million of his fellow countrymen.

The truth is that capitalism is rapidly liberating Asia. I read an article the other day about call centres in India. The wage sounded very low by British standards, but because of the lower cost of living it had the equivalent spending power of a £23,000 PA salary over here.

The hourly rates that Oxfam quotes for Scottish homeworkers don't sound all that wonderful, but how typical are they? More to the point, no one is forcing anyone to take these jobs. Implementing Oxfam's "workers' rights" may indeed benefit some of the homeworkers but would put many of them out of work altogether. Get these do-gooders out of the business world. The free market is what makes people better off - both in Asia and in Scotland.

Saturday, 8 May 2004

The SNP should grow up

I mean it's not like the guy has called for the re-establishment of the British Empire or demanded that Scottish football fans sing the praises of Jimmy Hill. Campbell Martin MSP has merely criticised his party's leader:
Scottish National Party leaders are meeting to decide what action to take against the MSP Campbell Martin.

Mr Martin, who has been sharply critical of John Swinney's leadership, is accused of acting against the interests of the party.

He has repeatedly called for Mr Swinney to be replaced as party leader.

As a consequence, he was suspended from duty and the party's national executive is considering the case against him at a disciplinary hearing in Edinburgh.

The party's executive could extend his suspension, expel him, rebuke him or dismiss the complaint altogether.

Criticising the leader is what happens in real parties. The SNP leadership should ignore Mr Martin, not give him more publicity. Martin found out about his suspension when he heard a radio interview with John Swinney. That's lousy management, akin to firing someone by e-mail or text message. Perhaps Campbell Martin has a point about the Nationalist's "leader".

Friday, 7 May 2004

And about time too

The head of the Inquiry into the parliament building fiasco has "fired a broadside"
Civil servants have been accused of misleading MSPs over the cost of the new parliament building by the head of the Holyrood Inquiry.

Lord Fraser said they concealed higher cost estimates when control of the project transferred to MSPs in 1999.

It looks as though the project might have been stopped by MSPs if they had been properly informed by the civil service:

Lord Fraser said: "It looks rather as though those who were involved in this were determined to keep the figure down as low as possible even to the point of concealing it from the parliament in the hope that the project would go ahead.

It was a very narrow vote on this in the Scottish Parliament in the middle of 1999.

Would it not have been appropriate to put the secretary of state in the position that he could tell parliament that the figure he had in front of him of what it was going to cost was £89m?"

There's more in this report:
It was an unprecedented outburst by the inquiry chief and suggests he believes civil servants influenced the democratic process by withholding vital information from MSPs.

The inquiry has also heard how other senior figures, including Sir Muir Russell, the former permanent secretary at the Scottish Executive, Barbara Doig, the former project sponsor, and Paul Grice, the current chief executive of the parliament, were involved in the decision not to tell ministers of the cost consultants’ warnings.

Each of them can now expect to be singled out for criticism when Lord Fraser’s report is published in the autumn.

Fair enough. But there needs to be far more than mere "criticism". If found to responsible, these people should be thrown out of their jobs and made to compensate their employers - the Scottish taxpayers. Without that the whole inquiry will have been just another waste of public money.

Tuesday, 4 May 2004

Trusting the people

Here's some good news:
Police and BAA are recruiting aviation enthusiasts to help fight terrorism at London's Heathrow Airport.

Plane-spotters will be given identity cards and a code of conduct encouraging them to report anything suspicious.

It's about time. For a long while now the authorities at Manchester and some other airports have been using the local knowledge of enthusiasts in the fight against terrorism. BAA has been slow off the mark. Aviation fans are often far more aware of what's going on at airports than many of those who work at them and for whom it's "just a job".

Blowing in the wind

There's certainly no shortage of wind in Scotland, and not just from politicians. I used to be generally favourable to the spread of wind farms, but I hadn't really realised just how many had already been built, nor was I fully aware of their size. Now, there's a growing backlash against wind farms:
A public debate took place on Monday night - with objectors saying the landscape could be spoiled by up to five new wind farms in Perthshire.
Having noticed more and more of these developments, I now conclude that they do pose a considerable threat to the visual environment and therefore to our tourist industry.

The real reason for the expansion of the wind farm industry is, of course, the Scottish Executive's commitment to the global warming scam:

Scottish Ministers announced in March that as much as 40% of Scotland's electricity should be generated from renewables by 2020.
I have been told by a top energy professional that this 40% "renewables" target is an unscientific nonsense, but that there will be no sensible long-term energy planning (like constructing new nuclear power stations) until the lights start going out. Politicians are interested in the next election, not our energy needs in sixteen years time.

Monday, 3 May 2004


... for the lack of posts over the past few days. Back to normal tomorrow I expect.

Doing my tax return took priority today when I realised that Mr Brown owed me a refund that was twice what I had originally estimated.