Saturday, 31 July 2004

You are all guilty

Sometimes I wonder if the government wants to criminalise every businessperson in the country. If so, this would seem to be a good way to go about it:
THREE-QUARTERS of Scotland’s businesses are facing five-figure fines when new disability rules come into force later this year. A leading consultancy has warned that despite having nine years to prepare for the introduction of the revised Disability Discrimination Act, Scottish companies seem oblivious to the new rules, which will take effect in just over two months. Not only must virtually all workplace premises be accessible to disabled people but staff must be trained in the correct way to engage with disabled customers in an effort to avoid talking down to them.
After reading this article I went for a walk through central Edinburgh. It looks to me that far more than three-quarters of businesses are not ready for this new imposition.

The tax-consuming class is looking forward to the October deadline:

The Disability Rights Commission has vowed to offer legal and financial backing to the first test cases, which are expected to be brought when the act comes into force.
And it's going to be easy for these "campaigners" to destroy any business whenever they feel like it:
Disability campaigners argue that even instances when shop attendants fail to kneel or crouch down when speaking to customers in wheelchairs - the appropriate behaviour to avoid talking down to people - could be a breach of the act.
Damn these parasites. Can I get "legal and financial backing" to sue the Disability Rights Commission for causing me stress as a result of its very existence?

Tuesday, 27 July 2004

Pavement politics

Never mind Iraq, the European Constitution or the collapsing, bug-ridden NHS.

Real politics are local:

A RENOWNED kiltmaker is threatening to sue City of Edinburgh Council after it confiscated his sandwich boards from the Royal Mile. The boards were removed in the latest phase of a controversial crackdown on street advertising which has incensed traders.
A legal battle looks likely:
Mr Nicholsby’s solicitor, Chris Leach, said: "We have sent a fax to the council with a deadline for the boards’ return. Mr Nicholsby has used these boards for 25 years and is very angry about the council’s actions. Our view is that the council has not satisfied the requirements of the Road Scotland Act." Two other traders had their boards removed on Thursday by officers taking part in enforcement action against shops flouting new council rules.
Being a moderate sort of chap I demand the immediate privatisation of the Royal Mile so as these conflicts can be avoided by the sound application of property rights. Come to think of it, shouldn't a "Royal" Mile already belong to Her Majesty? I'm sure that she would tolerate advertisements for kilts.

As it happens, I was on the Royal Mile yesterday and took this photograph:

Unless I am very much mistaken, it looks as if the filthy capitalist advertising board is causing no trouble at all but that the wonderful People's Republic of Edinburgh street cleaning department is "out at lunch".

Why can't the City of Edinburgh stop harassing tax-paying entrepreneurs like Mr Nicholsby and concentrate on keeping the pavements clean?

Monday, 26 July 2004

Can political correctness destroy the West?

It's certainly not going away here in Scotland:
IT HAS been called the latest example of political correctness gone mad: a local authority has refused to reveal the scores from a children's bowling competition. Officials from Aberdeen City Council running the event at the city's Westburn Park - as part of the 50th jubilee celebrations for the authority's annual bowling tournament - decided that some competitors who were beginners at the sport should be spared the embarrassment of seeing the scale of their defeats published in the local press.
Naturally, the public "servant" who is responsible for this fails to understand why there's a fuss:
She stressed: "It is nothing do with being PC or goodness knows what. The kids know they've lost and how badly they lost, and the last thing they really want is for their pals to be ribbing them all of the holidays. "We just thought it would be the kinder thing to do not to publish the results. We don't want to discourage the children - we want to encourage them because we want young bowlers coming in." Ms Walker added: "It's a load of rubbish to suggest this has anything to do with being a nanny state. If that's how people perceive it, then I am sorry for them."
But that's precisely what people like Ms Walker are creating: a nanny state. The reasoning (sic) behind all of this nonsense is the horror of acknowledging that people are different. It's not simply a matter of protecting primary school children from a holiday "ribbing", for this failure to acknowledge difference exists wherever the modern state imposes itself. A tragic consequence is the dumbing down of Scotland's once proud education system.

OK you may say, but how on earth can this "destroy the West"?

Consider this article by the Scotsman's Bill Jamieson:

One account, by an American woman journalist, describes highly unusual behaviour by a group of 14 Middle East passengers on board a Northwest Airlines Flight 327 on 29 June from Detroit to Los Angeles. The movements of the 14, which terrified a number of passengers, suggested an intelligence-gathering operation by terrorists. Other reported incidents on recent flights have included a Middle East passenger being caught in the toilet trying to break through the wall towards the cockpit.
This story was all over the web last week.

There's more:

Rand Peck, captain for a major US airline, said he was "deeply bothered" by the inconsistencies he sees at the Transport and Security Administration. "I've observed matronly grandmothers practically disrobed at security checkpoints and five-year-old blond boys turned inside out, while Middle Eastern males sail through undetained. "We have little to fear from grandmothers and little boys. But Middle Eastern males are protected, not by our Constitution, but from our current popular policy of political correctness and a desire to offend no-one at any cost, regardless of how many airplanes and bodies litter the landscape."
A philosophy that starts off by attempting to protect schoolchildren from the facts of life ends up with this:
And a 9/11 Commission member, John Lehman, stated back in April that "it was the policy before 9/11 and remains the policy today to fine airlines if they have more than two young Arab males in secondary questioning because that's discriminatory".
And the airlines have indeed been fined.

And what of the journalist who wrote about her frightening experience on the plane? She has been widely vilified:

Many e-mails were sent in calling her a racist for referring to 14 men with Syrian passports as Syrian men.
Can political correctness destroy the West? You bet it can.

Sunday, 25 July 2004

The market for education

The government nationalises most education. Naturally, there is a market response:
PARENTS are paying up to £80,000 extra for properties in order to get their children into the leading state schools in Scotland.

The figures quoted may be a bit overdone:

Parents pay the extra believing it could save them thousands of pounds in private school fees. Houses near Jordanhill school, in the west end of Glasgow, were selling for an average of £152,103 - £40,000 more than the city-wide average
Well, yes, I'd expect houses in the west end to be considerably more expensive than elsewhere in Glasgow even if schooling were not a factor.

But the quality of local state schools clearly does make a difference:

Williamwood High school in Clarkston, to the south of Glasgow, helped house prices reach an average of £154,445 - more than £10,000 above the typical price for the area.
It is impossible for all schools to be of equal quality, whether run by the state or otherwise. Nevertheless, schools in the private sector benefit from market mechanisms that make for continual improvement. I believe that all schools should be privately owned and that they shouldn't be funded by the state. In the meantime we could give parents vouchers to be used in a privatised education system. That way everyone can get access to a sound education without having to run the risk of a catastrophic loss in the value of one's home whenever some bureaucrat redraws the catchment area boundary.

Thursday, 22 July 2004

The SNP leadership

This is interesting:
Anyone typing in on the internet is directed straight to the SNP's party website - where a beaming John Swinney still welcomes the party faithful to "the SNP's new website".
I'd have thought that Mr Salmond would have had his own website up and running by now.

His two rivals' sites are here:

Roseanna Cunningham

Mike Russell

Roseanna's web campaign doesn't look too dynamic - it's been a week since the last update.

In terms of using the web Mike Russell is the clear winner although he'll probably do as well as Howard Dean.

The Bank of Scotland: RIP

Ever since the "merger" of the Bank of Scotland with the Halifax there's been an outpouring of complaints from irate customers of "The Bank". Hardly a day goes by without a letter being published in the Scotsman and today we have three. (Here's one from Monday.)

My mother's family banked with the British Linen Bank in Annan. They even lived in Bank Street! Ever since moving away in the 1940's my mother always kept a small balance in "her" bank and didn't mind too much when it became part of the Bank of Scotland. Out of the blue she received a letter "thanking her for choosing to bank with the Halifax". She hadn't, nor had any of the other Bank of Scotland customers whose accounts were unilaterally transferred after the "merger". My mother is now unable to communicate with the Annan branch - that's no longer allowed.

My wife and I both opened ISA accounts with the Bank of Scotland - it offered the best rates at the time and we liked the Scottish connection. These accounts were also unilaterally transferred to the Halifax after the "merger". Last night my wife phoned the bank to transfer a sum from her ISA account to her current account, which is with the Clydesdale Bank. First she had to "re-register" her account with a new security code and was then told that she could only make a telephonic transfer from her ISA account to a current account with the Halifax/Bank of Scotland and not to an outside bank. She would have to go into town, withdraw cash from HBoS and deposit it into her own bank! These were the new rules that now applied to ISA accounts according to the phone operator. We cursed Gordon Brown. After the call we had a look at my wife's ISA statement and saw that she had indeed made a similar telephonic transfer to the Clydesdale not too long ago. This morning she phoned HBoS again and was asked to "re-register her account with a new security code" although she had done that last night! Today's operator confirmed the new rules: they're nothing to do with Mr Brown but are the result of the bank "integration". She also said that we could change our accounts from "branch-based" to "telephone-based" ones, and that would enable us to transfer funds to another organisation by telephone in future. This would take ten days to organise! But our accounts weren't opened at any particular branch - the forms were sent by post from the Bank of Scotland's head office. We never chose to have "branch-based" accounts. We were also told that the telephone account would pay an extra 1% interest. Why weren't we told of this option before? All-in-all this "merger" has been an unmitigated disaster and looks like destroying one of Scotland's oldest and proudest businesses. It's such a shame.

Tuesday, 20 July 2004

Is the housing boom about to burst?

The experts are divided but I'd be worried about buying at the moment.

Consider this:

"We need a 95 per cent mortgage and under offers over if we bid above the surveyor's valuation, we would need to find the difference, and we don't really have any savings for that." After looking for five months, at properties in Leith, Newhaven, Abbeyhill and Easter Road, they finally spotted a one-bedroom flat in Edinburgh's Meadowbank at a fixed price of £122,500. Miss Rae added: "We have bought a flat that needs a bit of work. We hope to sell in 18 months and make a bit of money on it."
This couple expect to sell at a profit in less than two years. That seems an incredibly risky strategy to me, especially when the buyers are starting out with a mere 5% in equity. Caveat Emptor.

I came across this excellent article about the similar housing boom in the US:

So what is going to happen? It certainly appears that Alan Greenspan's loose monetary policy has done more than inflate a housing bubble. Prices of goods and services are rising as well now (even though the grossly manipulated CPI indicates only mild price inflation). Should the bond market get a whiff of real inflation, then an inflation premium will be priced into long-term bonds i.e., interest rates will rise sharply and bonds will fall. At this point, the bond market will show that Alan Greenspan is behind the curve and he will be forced to dramatically increase short-term interest rates in order to slay the inflation dragon. Such a scenario, of rising interest rates, will pummel the housing market and will leave millions of homeowners with negative equity in their homes. Mortgage defaults will rise, especially on adjustable rate mortgages, and this will be a financial disaster that will make the S&L crisis pale in comparison - keep in mind that we are talking about trillions of dollars in home loans and federal mortgage guarantees.
I am concerned about the stability of the financial system itself as well as the risks being undertaken by homebuyers. Naturally, the taxpayer will be called upon to bail out the improvident borrowers and lenders. As Mr Englund puts it:
In spite of their implicit culpability, while America's financial system teeters on the abyss, these politicians will go on the offensive and somehow lay blame on all private companies involved with real estate - and call them "fat-cat, capitalist exploiters." In the end, politically-motivated pandering to envy may leave us with a nasty, brutish, and impoverished democracy.
It's the same over here, and I don't doubt that the NuLab spin machine has already written the press release.

Mr Forrest to stand for Parliament

I suppose we shouldn't be surprised by this news:
A GUESTHOUSE owner who was dropped from VisitScotland listings after he refused to allow a gay couple to stay in a double room wants to stand as an MSP at the next election.
On the new rules expected from the proposed Equality and Human Rights Commission, Mr Forrest claims:
"That is going to destroy tourism in the whole of Scotland. It's about time somebody stood up and said this is our moral stand against what's happening in this country.
I think he's wrong on that because the new law would apply throughout the whole of the UK and no doubt elsewhere in the EU. Property rights just aren't fashionable these days.

And isn't this hilarious?

The so-called super-quango will have a £50 million-a-year budget to tackle discrimination in every walk of life.
No. No. No.

There will be no "tackling" of discrimination against those who defend property rights and other freedoms. Instead, more restrictions will be placed on what was once wonderfully described as "capitalist acts between consenting adults".

(Incidentally, some readers may find it amusing that my spellchecker suggested replacing the word "hotelier" with "Hitler". Others may prefer the suggested replacement of "EU' with "EH".)

Monday, 19 July 2004

Letters from F&W readers

Neil Craig had this letter published in the Scotsman last week. Today's paper carries one from Eamonn Butler of the Adam Smith Institute and Bruce Crichton gets a response from a statist here.

The People's Open?

I have had a few more thoughts after our family visit to the Open on Friday and the exciting climax at Troon last night. The organisation of the whole event was first class. A voluntary army of local youngsters kept the catering areas free from litter and they constantly cleaned the mobile toilets. The marshals handled the large crowds with tact and efficiency. Whenever a player was ready to swing his club there was total silence from the crowd. Good play was always applauded no matter which country the player came from. The ban on cameras was observed completely despite there being no security checks at the entrances. The management of the Open was clearly in the hands of what we might call the Scottish equivalent of the provincial Daily Telegraph reading class. There was absolutely no sign of political correctness. But think how different it could have been.

A Blairite "People's Open" would have quotas for female, minority and handicapped players. There would be no place for real "minority" players like Tiger Woods or Vijay Singh who were at Troon on merit, an obviously outdated and elitist concept. Previous winners would be barred from competing taking part. The volunteers would have been replaced by a properly unionised and highly paid workforce, which would have known nothing about golf. The crowd would have booed foreign players and drunkenness would have been rife. Champagne would still have been served of course but only to members of the cabinet and their cronies and not to those spending their own money. The "people" would make do with beer.

You may think that I am claiming that this was some kind of elitist event. Well, it was and it wasn't. The winner (by one stroke) earned £720,000. Nearby Prestwick Airport was filled with executive jets and helicopters. But the vast majority of the crowd spoke with the strong accent of the west of Scotland, and were young and old, male and female and, I am sure, from all social classes. We don't need the state to run society. The people can do it for themselves.

Friday, 16 July 2004

A day out in the sun

My wife and I have just returned from an excellent day out at Troon to watch Day 2 of the Open. To think that if I had spent my teenage years at Prestwick playing golf instead of watching aircraft I could have been picking up £720,000 on Sunday evening.

Thursday, 15 July 2004

Distrusting the State

I wonder why we in Scotland are more sceptical about ID cards than people in the rest of the UK:
A poll conducted by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that barely half of Scots were in favour of making the cards compulsory, compared with 72 per cent for Britain as a whole.
Maybe people in England are more concerned about terrorism.

I'm not at all comfortable with this part of the survey:

It found that almost two-thirds of voters would support some state funding of political parties to reduce their dependence on donations from wealthy individuals.
Why on earth should we be forced to pay for political parties? Many people won't approve of any party and might prefer to vote for independents. There are good intellectual arguments in favour of anarchism.

I understand why some members of the public want to "limit the danger of individuals seeking to buy influence". I share that concern. However, the way to reduce undue influence is not to restrict free speech but to limit the powers of the state to protecting us from those who initiate force or fraud. In such a society there is no political benefit in being rich or poor and therefore no reason to seek to influence politicians for personal gain.

We live in scary times

There's been a huge amount of speculation on the web about a possible terrorist strike on the US in the coming months. It is always interesting - if worrying - to read the regular articles by J. R. Nyquist on the excellent Financial Sense Online website. To put it mildly, I am rather concerned about what might occur between now and the November elections in America:
The warnings qualitatively differ from previous warnings. Two data points serve to explain this qualitative shift. The first data point is the claim that al Qaeda has nuclear weapons that are probably deployed on U.S. soil. The second data point is the fact that steps are being taken to cope with a major disruption of the November elections.
There seems to be very little discussion about these concerns in the UK press. I wonder what the British government's real views are on this.

Welcome back Alex

I was certainly surprised by this news:
Former leader of the Scottish National Party Alex Salmond is to stand in the contest to replace John Swinney.
I imagine that it's likely that Mr Salmond will be re-elected as SNP leader and won't stand again at Westminster at the forthcoming General Election. No doubt some SNP worthy will be persuaded to make room for Alex at Holyrood. I look forward to Jack McConnell's discomfiture.

Wednesday, 14 July 2004

The Queen Mary 2

Seen at the Forth Bridge yesterday evening shortly before leaving for Norway.

Being passed by the car ferry bound for Belgium

Tuesday, 13 July 2004

John Knox - is his time up?

Gordon Brown's latest spending plans mean a bonanza for the Scottish Executive.
This, plus the money directly channelled to Scotland by Whitehall, such as social security and defence industry outgoings, will mean spending of more than £11,000 for each man, woman and child in the country - half of it by the Scottish Executive:

By international standards, this is a fortune. Nationmaster, which compares figures for every country in the world, finds only one administration that will shower more cash on its population than Scotland: the Vatican City, whose population is only 940.

Not good enough: we want to be number one.

Seriously though, this is outrageous. High state spending is crowding out the private sector. What young person entering the job market in Scotland nowadays won't be tempted by a government job, especially when one considers the hugely generous pension benefits? I know someone who joined the civil service at 15 and retired at 45! Who would want to start a business in this kind of environment? The way forward is for Scotland to be fully responsible for raising all of its own taxes with an appropriate sum sent to London for things like defence. Then we might get some kind of rebellion by taxpayers and a little discipline imposed on the tax-consuming class.

Alternatively, we may as well go for the big one and make Jack McConnell Pope, allowing us to live off the tourist money as he addresses the crowds at St Giles' Cathedral each week. Quite how this would go down in Glasgow is another matter altogether...

What an idiot

A local councillor in Fife has been barred by a pub:
A councillor barred from a pub for taunting English people at a wake has said he simply does not like them because of the Battle of Culloden.
It's bad enough insulting visitors - especially at a wake - but I always thought that more Scots fought on the government side at Culloden than those who were fighting for Bonnie Prince Charlie.

How much do you know about the US?

I came across this test yesterday.
If you were born a U.S. citizen, you didn't have to do anything to become a citizen--except be born. But each year, thousands of people have to take a test to gain citizenship. This quiz includes actual questions asked on the exam given by the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS), formerly the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).
I managed to get all 11 questions correct but I made a lucky guess on number 7 (which was the 49th state?) and I did study American politics and history as part of my BA. I'll give readers a little help: it's unlikely that the Pilgrims went to America on the Titanic...

Monday, 12 July 2004

The "right" to roam

A new countryside code is being launched to give guidelines to ramblers. A tried and tested advertising technique will be used to get the message across: cute animals
The animated animal characters will appear on television and cinema screens to prepare the public for their new responsibility to safeguard the countryside.

They include Colin the pony, John the dog, Ricky the spider and two seagulls called Dawne and Issy.

I'm surprised that the BBC hasn't noticed that the animals all seem to be, how shall I put it, hideously white. Shouldn't we be seeing some critters of colour? There are certainly plenty of them in the Scottish countryside.

A bit off

I presume that this was thought to be legal because it took place outside the twelve-mile limit:
CUSTOMS officers have detained the boat of a yachtsman who set up an off-shore "off-licence".

Phil Berriman was selling alcohol and cigarettes at duty-free prices from his 72ft-schooner, Rich Harvest, anchored 13 miles from shore.

Customers had to sail out into the North Sea but once aboard Rich Harvest could buy leading brands of cigarettes and spirits for a fraction of the mainland shop price.

Despite warnings from Custom and Excise officers, Mr Berriman said his scheme was legal.

I wish Mr Berriman the best of luck. There's not much point in being in the EU if we can't import what we want from our fellow member countries.

Incidentally, I wonder why the Scotsman has displayed this story about an Englishman, operating off the English coastline, under its "Scotland" news rather than in the "UK" section. Has the border moved south over the weekend?

A cut too far

Libertarians believe that state functions (if we are to have a state at all) should be limited to protecting citizens from those who initiate force or fraud. A properly limited state should therefore have adequate armed forces to keep overseas aggressors at bay. It seems clear that the present government has utterly failed to perform this duty and is now making matters worse. It looks likely that Scotland will be hard hit by the expected cuts:
Defence insiders have told The Scotsman that the RAF is top of Mr Hoon’s hit-list and thousands of jobs among the 8,000 personnel in Scotland are in jeopardy as a result of threatened cuts in frontline aircraft and the scaling back of future procurement projects.

Although two Scottish regiments are likely to be disbanded, that would be small change compared with the huge savings to be made from scrapping billions of pounds of RAF aircraft orders, according to defence sources.

It looks as though the usual NuLab spin is underway:
GORDON Brown, the Chancellor, will today challenge Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, to sack civil servants instead of making cuts in frontline armed forces.

Mr Brown will make it clear that he believes his Comprehensive Spending Review will give the Ministry of Defence enough money to avoid axing regiments - if it is prepared to make some major reductions in bureaucracy.

The Chancellor will step up his rhetoric on cutting government waste, pledging to get rid of up to 80,000 civil service jobs. If Mr Brown has his way, many of those cuts will be at the MoD, which, as The Scotsman revealed last week, has more civilian staff than the army has soldiers.

I expect that a few MOD civil servants will be sacked - and a lot more hired in other departments - and the actual military cuts will be proclaimed to be far less than had been speculated upon in the press and by the opposition. That's the Labour way. The outcome will be yet more expenditure on welfare and not enough on defence.

For those who wish to protest, click here.

Thursday, 8 July 2004

Degrees of success

David Steel still doesn't seem to realise how much damage has been done to Scotland's reputation by the parliament building overspend. One politician has done an excellent job of looking after the public's interest in this matter and isn't too impressed with his Lordship:
Last night, a long-term critic of the building Margo Macdonald, an independent MSP, said: "David Steel doesn’t know when to quit while he is ahead.

"Evidence to Lord Fraser spelt out clearly that as well as incompetent and dubious management practice by professionals, the politicians charged with overseeing it on behalf of the people did not cover themselves with glory either."

Steel was speaking at Glasgow Caledonian University from whom he received an honorary degree.

Using the tiresome terminology of the victimocracy establishment:

Sir David used his acceptance speech to pay tribute to the university’s "expertise" in social inclusion and community regeneration.
Ah yes. Where would we be without state-funded social inclusion projects? Well maybe we should note who received the other honorary degree at GCU:
Charan Gill, earned his honour by owning and operating the UK’s biggest Indian restaurant chain.
And did Mr Gill achieve his success thanks to the social inclusionists? Not quite:
Mr Gill MBE could barely speak English when he arrived from the Punjab aged nine, but in a true "rags to riches" tale, he has amassed a £15 million fortune.

He said: "I am absolutely thrilled. I started school when I was nine and left at 15. I didn’t expect this but it is always nice to know that someone is watching and saying ‘well done’."

Mr Gill is worth 100 puffed-up self-important politicians.

Wednesday, 7 July 2004

Scotland and London

A few days ago I wrote about the Shirley Porter affair and said that Glasgow was one of the poorest cities in the UK.

Stuart Dickson pointed out that Glasgow was in fact the poorest British city. David Rainey responded by drawing our attention to this:

...the Sheffield study analysed the census data in blocks of Local Authorities structures. Accordingly, Glasgow City council was a single unit in the study and did very poorly. However, in England (London, especially) the Local councils are smaller and often many are needed to cover an entire city.
This means that many London Boroughs (as opposed to the whole city) are in the poorest categories. Even Westminster is "deprived" with almost 40% of its population in "poverty".

Nevertheless, I don't see how anyone can deny the fact that the southeast of England dominates the UK economy in an unhealthy way. I know that Scotland is just about average in the UK in terms of GDP per capita (with northern England being much less productive) but we are exporting a very high proportion of our qualified young people to London and its surroundings. That shouldn't be necessary and our population is now declining and ageing.

I normally agree with most of the commentary from the Scotsman's George Kerevan. In his article George maintains that London's dominance is primarily due to its competitive private sector and not to its capital status:

How did London achieve this spectacular growth, and why did other UK cities fail to emulate it? One theory is that London was especially privileged by being the political capital of the UK. Over 90 per cent of the UN’s 185 member countries have an embassy or high commission there. London also hosts 14 international organisations, including the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the Commonwealth Secretariat. London attracts company head offices anxious to be close to the centre of things. It is home to more corporate HQs than any other European city: 33 per cent of the Fortune Global 500 firms have their European HQ in the city, compared with only 9 per cent in Paris and 3 per cent in Frankfurt.

However, the balance of the evidence suggests that London’s political clout stems from its economic weight and not the other way around. Contrary to popular mythology, only 18.4 per cent of all UK civil servants work in London.

I don't really agree with George on this. Taking the civil service numbers for a start, London's population share would entitle it to more like 13% of the UK total so already it's about 40% ahead of the game. But what's really important is that London is the base of the civil servants who matter. The Sir Humphreys are there, not the junior clerks relocated to the "provinces". That's why almost all of the UK's top companies are headquartered in London - far more than in any one city in the USA or Germany. In turn it makes commercial sense for all of those highly paid creative industries described by George to be in London too.

There is a fascinating article in the latest issue of the IEA's Economic Affairs. Victoria Curzon Price writes that:

Switzerland has a tradition of decentralised government, decentralised tax setting and direct reference to the voters through referendums. Such mechanisms should give rise to lower taxes, better provision of public goods and higher economic growth. However, these mechanisms have not been effective in the last 30 years at preventing the growth in government spending and centralisation. This is partly because of the consensus in favour of centralisation that exists among institutionalised politicians. The performance of the Swiss economy since 1970 has consequently been dismal. Real per capita post-tax incomes have been stagnant. There is now an opportunity for the growth of centralisation to be reversed.
The article maintains that the Swiss economy has suffered from the transfer of power and tax collecting from the cantons to the federal government. Compared to the UK, Switzerland remains very decentralised but it's clearly been moving in the wrong direction. Elsewhere in the article a chart shows that the proportion of UK taxes collected centrally has risen from 71% in 1975 to 79% in 2000. Of the 19 countries listed only Ireland (a geographically small country) collects more at the centre. The German federal government collects a mere 31% of all the country's tax (down from 34% in 1975) - the rest being collected at the land or local level. Even France collects only 48% of its tax take nationally.

I remain convinced that British national life (think of our transport "system") is distorted by the dominance of the southeast. This in turn is largely the result of more than 40% of the economy being under state control and being almost entirely run from one end of a long and narrow country. My own preference is for that 40% to be reduced to more like 4%. Then it wouldn't matter too much where the capital was located - just like Switzerland in its good old days. If we don't want to fire all of those public servants we should move the capital to the other end of the country. Sir Humphrey will enjoy living in Easterhouse.

Tuesday, 6 July 2004

The black market expands

I have dined several times at the excellent Ducks at Le Marche Noir restaurant. The organisation is expanding:
THE idiosyncratic Edinburgh restaurateur Malcolm Duck is set to expand his bistro chain into East Lothian with the acquisition of the Kilspindie Hotel in Aberlady.

In a private deal expected to go through today, Mr Duck, who owns the stylish New Town bistro Duck’s at Le Marche Noir and holds the catering contract at Lennoxlove House, will take control of the three-star hotel for an undisclosed sum.

Until today I hadn't realised that Malcolm's father enjoyed a rather exotic name:
Born in Quetta, Pakistan, the son of Dr Donald Duck, who was a missionary doctor, Mr Duck left the navy in 1991 and took over the running of Duck’s at Le Marche Noir.

Another Scottish political party!

Thanks to Brian Nugent for alerting me to the website of the Free Scotland Party. The FSP is based in Shetland.

What about the workers?

There were rumours that this might have happened when I flew out from Edinburgh three weeks ago. Fortunately for me it didn't. But look at the way it is reported:
HOLIDAYMAKERS could face a summer of chaos after baggage handlers at Britain’s main airports yesterday voted to strike following their rejection of a 2.5 per cent pay increase.
It was the same last night on the TV news: "holidaymakers" could be affected by the proposed strikes at airports. But huge numbers of airline passengers aren't holidaymakers but business people, as a glance at the departure area at Edinburgh airport would confirm. For all too many reporters businessmen and women aren't quite as real as "holidaymakers".

The long arm of the law

After what seems like forever Shirley Porter has had to cough up:
DAME Shirley Porter, the former Conservative leader of Westminster City Council, has handed over £12 million to settle the surcharge imposed on her following the "homes for votes" scandal of the 1980s, it was announced yesterday.
A "homes for votes" scandal. It sounds rather shocking. So what exactly did Shirley do?
Surcharges were imposed on the Tesco heiress after it was found that she approved a policy to sell off council homes to potential Tory voters in marginal wards to boost the party’s election prospects.
Aha, that's it: using taxpayer-financed council houses for the purpose of electoral gain.

But hang on a moment. Isn't that exactly what generations of Labour politicians have been doing by building all those council houses in the first place? In fact the construction of so many council estates in Glasgow has created a population that has come to believe that the state owes them everything: housing, jobs, education, health services, pensions and welfare. That in turn has made the city one of the poorest in the UK. The perpetrators of this mass pauperisation now dominate the Scottish Parliament. It's no wonder that they are totally unable to create an entrepreneurial culture.

Sunday, 4 July 2004

This week's cause celebre

The case of Thomas Forrest's refusal to let a double room to two gays continues to reverberate throughout the Scottish media.

Stuart Dickson commented on my previous item:

All services and products become "public" when they are offered for sale. As such they must comply with the many laws of the land. Those laws include the right to freedom from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
As a libertarian I don't agree that goods and services somehow become "public" when offered for sale. The function of the state should not extend beyond the prevention of the initiation of force or fraud. People should be free to offer services on whatever terms they like. Of course, we don't live in a libertarian society and one should comply with the present laws. It seems to be the case here that the sex discrimination laws apply to matters relating to employment but not to the provision of services and that's why Mr Forrest hasn't faced prosecution. In these circumstances it is disturbing that VisitScotland - a taxpayer-funded body - has in effect unilaterally decided that the law should be different. A private tourist body would be fully within its rights to make judgments of this sort but surely not one supposedly acting on behalf of us all.

In his new book Stanford University Senior Fellow Thomas Sowell writes:

Politics and the market are both ways of getting some people to respond to other people's desires. Consumers choosing which goods to spend their money on have often been analogized to voters deciding which candidates to elect to public office. However, the two processes are profoundly different. Not only do individuals invest very different amounts of time and thought in making economic versus political decisions, those decisions are inherently different in themselves. Voters decide whether to vote for one candidate or another but they decide how much of what kinds of food, clothing, shelter, etc., to purchase. In short, political decisions tend to be categorical, while economic decisions tend to be incremental.

Incremental decisions can be more fine-tuned than deciding which candidate's whole package of principles and practices comes closest to meeting your own desires.

I agree. When the state makes the provision of goods and service "public" then it's usually a case of either/or - a "categorical" rule, to use Sowell's terminology. No doubt the law will now be changed to force Mr Forrest to accept gays in his guesthouse, just as a few decades ago allowing gays to share a double room would probably have been illegal. If we leave these decisions to the market we get an "incremental" outcome. Some guesthouses would bar gays, some would be solely for gays and the vast majority would probably not make any rule whatsoever. Incidentally, the same principles happily resolve the so-called problem of smoking in so-called "public" places.

Scottish Enterprise Party

I mentioned this new Scottish political party back in May. Now they have formally launched:
The right-of-centre Scottish Enterprise Party has been partly founded by disgruntled SNP supporters who feel it has moved too far to the left.
I would be interested to hear what Stuart Dickson has to say about this development.

Here is a link to the website.

Friday, 2 July 2004

Another Holyrood money row

This time it's over plans to charge a fee for conducted tours of our new parliament building. Yes we've paid (and how!) for the construction but it does seem reasonable to recoup the additional cost of providing the guides. Needless to say there's no danger of the taxpayer recovering any of the overspend on the building:
A parliament spokesperson said: "The parliament is procuring an expert guided-tour service. These charges have been set on a break-even, non-profit basis."
Well that's OK then. Making a profit would never do, would it? We can't have politicians being corrupted by trade, can we?

Thursday, 1 July 2004

We need a market for transport

Although the City Council may well screw things up, it's clear that road pricing is necessary. Not many are speaking out in favour. The Conservatives should be promoting a properly thought out scheme of road privatisation but seem to want socialism when it seemingly benefits their own supporters.

The Festival approaches...

... and already we are hearing about unusual productions:
THE TRAVERSE Theatre claimed the title last night for the fastest sell-out of a Fringe show - but rival venues cried foul.

The Traverse confirmed yesterday that every £15 ticket for A Mobile Thriller has been snapped up, less than a week after the theatre unveiled its Fringe brochure.

But there is a catch.

The show is staged in a Maserati Quattroporte being driven through the streets of Edinburgh, and has room for an audience of just three.

That's nothing. I propose to take festival goers around the city in a superior Italian vehicle: my vintage Alfa 75 which costs almost as much to insure each year as the car is supposedly worth. While driving past the grave of Adam Smith, the statue of David Hume and all of the numerous Scottish Parliament sites as well as the Scottish Executive's own grim Lubyanka, I shall recite the complete works of Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich von Hayek and Murray Rothbard while the audience partakes of a small dram. The cost for this veritable extravaganza will be one ounce of gold per customer.

The state's attack on property rights

This story has been attracting considerable attention over the last few days:
A GUEST house owner was unrepentant last night despite being dropped by VisitScotland for refusing a gay couple a room and branding them "sexual deviants".

The tourism body took action against Tom Forrest, the proprietor of the Cromasaig guest house in Wester Ross, who told Stephen Nock and his partner they could not stay in a double room.

VisitScotland has withdrawn the premises from its quality assurance scheme and its website for his "appalling treatment" of the couple.

Mr Forrest has every right to decide who can stay in his property and on what terms. A privately owned tourist information service equally is perfectly free to remove Mr Forrest from its listings for whatever reason (subject to contractual arrangements). I'm not at all sure that a taxpayer-funded organisation like VisitScotland should be barring Mr Forrest in this instance. What next? Will guest house owners be removed from the public listings if they are politically incorrect in other ways? All the more reason why governments shouldn't be involved in promoting any businesses at all.