Monday, 30 August 2004

Let there be light

The good folk of North Ronaldsay have something to celebrate this week:
Generations of seafarers have depended on the lighthouse at North Ronaldsay in Orkney and, while it is still a working building, the 60-strong population depend on its status as a tourist attraction as well. Wednesday is the 150th anniversary of the light going on at the famous tower, at 139ft the tallest land-based lighthouse in Britain and one of the most photographed landmarks in the country. Dignitaries including Jim Wallace, the deputy first minister and Orkney MP, will join the celebrations.
It's absolutely appropriate that Mr Wallace attend this event as local MSP. (He's not an MP by the way!) But Jim's not only MSP for Orkney as well as being deputy first minister in the Scottish parliament. He is also minister for enterprise and one much criticised by the business community. In fact he's usually accused of knowing next-to-nothing about enterprise and the market economy. So here's some friendly advice for our Jim.

Why not take advantage of Wednesday's celebration to point out that:

Until that time (1974), conventional wisdom from John Stuart Mill to Paul Samuelson had claimed that the lighthouse was the quintessential "public good," which allegedly had to be provided by government due to the inherent free-riding of those who could not be charged for the services being provided. Coase showed, however, that in Britain, “contrary to the belief of many economists, a lighthouse service can be provided by private enterprise... The lighthouses were built, operated, financed and owned by private individuals, who could sell a lighthouse or dispose of it by bequest. The role of the government was limited to the establishment and enforcement of property rights in the lighthouse." Only later did the British government consolidate all lighthouse services under its own monopoly in order to eliminate competition and directly reap the financial benefits developed by private entrepreneurs.
Think of it: At one stroke Jim would be free. Previously derided for his lack of understanding of the world of business, Mr Wallace would suddenly be the toast of free market think tanks across the globe. Entrepreneurs worldwide would be astounded to learn that economic wisdom was being proclaimed in the land of Adam Smith - by a politician! Inward investment would flow. Multinationals would relocate their headquarters to Scotland (if not Orkney) and Jim Wallace would be swept into power as the leader of a real liberal government. Go for it Jim.

Sunday, 29 August 2004

Sick Scotland

Andrew Duffin has e-mailed me about a story in Friday's Glasgow Herald:

"Waiting times for patients at Scotland's accident and emergency departments are rising and have now reached unacceptable levels, the health minister said yesterday. "
And Andrew comments:
What, despite all those extra £billions? Well, colour me surprised!
This story was also big news in Friday's Scotsman:
Indeed, rather than generating vast improvements in the health service in Scotland, the Executive’s massive extra investment - £2 billion extra in the past four years - seems to have made no noticeable improvement. Waiting lists are greater now than they were before devolution and key waiting times are longer than under the Tories.
Surely the explanation must be a "lack of resources", some will claim.

Not so:

The government spends £1,190 per head on health in England. In Scotland the figure is £1,500, the equivalent of 10 per cent of Scottish GDP - well ahead of the EU average of 8.2 per cent. But the English NHS has managed to make great strides in cutting waiting lists and times, improving productivity and making the whole service more efficient.
And there was yet more about this fiasco in another Scotsman article on Friday:
Yesterday’s official waiting time statistics revealed that the average wait for inpatient treatment at Scottish hospitals was 43 days in June - five days more than last year. They also showed that patients are waiting longer for treatment in Scotland’s accident and emergency departments.
An editorial calls for the resignation of Scotland's health minister:
UNDER Malcolm Chisholm, Scotland has set two records: the highest healthcare spending ratio in Western Europe, and the lowest life expectancy. The health minister appears to be gunning for a third title: the biggest investment for the poorest results.

.... Scotland is rich in healthcare professionals, who have the intellect (and the resources) to tackle the problems mainly created by pockets of Labour-sponsored urban poverty which now make Glasgow’s life expectancy lower than that of Iran. The problem is the politicians.

Rejecting reform may have been an easy choice for Mr Chisholm, but Scotland’s sick are now paying the price. For their sake, he must go.

I have spent the last two weeks at the Edinburgh Book Festival listening to speaker after speaker praising the Scottish Enlightenment and its contribution to mankind - especially in medicine - and yet the population of Glasgow, once the proud Second City of the Empire, is sicker than that of Iran.

Yes, Malcolm Chisholm should go. But he's just carrying out a policy supported by all of the Scottish Labour Party as well as virtually every other politician in the Scottish parliament. It's unfair to lay all the blame on the hapless Chisholm - the whole Scottish Executive should resign in shame. It's time for a new Enlightenment.

Thursday, 26 August 2004

Is it oil over?

.. asks George Kerevan in his column today:
the current leader of the Apocalypse Cult, George Monbiot, was explaining that the world is about to run out of oil and so we’d be better off living in wattle huts without electricity
But is there an energy crisis? Mr Kerevean doesn't think so:
HERE’S what happens next. The oil companies are now going to go on the rampage to find new oil sources. A decade from now, gallons of the black stuff will be coming out of our ears, and the price will plummet. Meantime, things may get a little rocky and economic belts will be tightened, but hopefully not quite so tightly as in the 1970s.
Indeed, this process is already under way.

I was at one of George Monbiot's sessions at the Edinburgh Book Festival but was not selected to ask a question. Mr Monbiot spoke at length about the "price" of oil without seeming to understand what the word price actually means. A price is a ratio. In this case he was telling the audience that oil now costs $50 a barrel. He could equally have told us that oil now "costs" fifteen measures of whisky per barrel, or, for that matter, four festival sessions with George Monbiot! It's no good examining the denominator: a "barrel of oil" unless we also look at the numerator: a "dollar".

For quite a few years now the US Federal Reserve has been printing dollars like there's no tomorrow. This of course means that each dollar buys less and less. Oil is priced in dollars and therefore the price of oil will continually rise, other things being equal.

For anti-capitalists like Mr Monbiot it's much easier to go on and on about "shortages" of resources rather than examining the politically-controlled monetary system that's behind rising prices. But if Mr Monbiot were to have a look at how money is created by governments he would realise that the US authorities aren't pro-capitalist at all and that would never do, would it?

Monday, 23 August 2004

Bush here!

There's a fascinating item in today's Urban Survival:
We find great irony in the name of the city where the Iranian nuke plant is located: "Bushehr" - pronounced "Bush HERE". Ah, the Universe has its wry sense of humor, does it not? Anyway, we figure a Western attack will come before inauguration day 2005 regardless of the elections (which we remain hopeful will be held).

The future of Abbey National

A short while ago I wrote about the sad decline of the Bank of Scotland since its "merger" with the Halifax. I had an ISA account with Bank of Scotland that has now been taken over by the new HBoS regime. I also have a deposit account with the Abbey. When I read that Santander Central Hispano were making a bid for Abbey I wasn't at all concerned. Then I heard the rumours that HBoS may make a counter-bid for Abbey. I was not happy with this development, not only because of the poor customer service that has plagued HBoS, but also because I prefer to keep my money in separate banks: I am, after all, a student of the Austrian School of Economics. I was now positively cheering for the Spaniards to win the battle for Abbey.

Now I read this nonsense:

SANTANDER Central Hispano, the Spanish bank attempting to take over Abbey National, has emerged as a substantial financial backer to controversial Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez.
For God's sake! Chavez is an unreconstructed Marxist of the worst sort. Why is a mainstream European bank financing Chavez? There is, to put it mildly, considerable doubt about the recent referendum in Venezuela:
CARACAS, Venezuela, AUG. 16, 2004 ( The recall referendum held Sunday on Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez was a "gigantic fraud," says Cardinal José Castillo Lara. The National Electoral Council reported today that Chávez won 58.3% of the votes in the recall, compared with 41.7% who voted for his ouster. The tally was 4.99 million votes to 3.57 million. The Venezuelan-born cardinal told Vatican Radio that a "gigantic fraud" took place in the referendum. "There was a move to the ballot boxes never before seen in Venezuela," he said. "But the electoral centers, changing the dispositions, used people of the ruling party in the vote-counting." "Exit polls at the ballot boxes showed that there was 65% in favor of 'yes,' that is, of the revocation of the mandate, and only 35% or at most 40% in favor of the president," said the cardinal, who is an expert in juridical questions and president emeritus of the Pontifical Commission for the Vatican City State. The cardinal also said that governmental representatives bought votes at the ballot boxes. "Poor people were given the equivalent of U.S. $50 or $60 if they voted 'no,' that is, to keep the president in the government," he added
I don't want my Abbey account to be taken over by Mr Chavez's financial backers. Even boring old National Savings doesn't offer much of an alternative: following the recent increase in the Bank of England's base rate, National Savings has cut its rates to depositors. Let's just get rid of statist fiat money and its associated banks. Then we savers can invest with confidence.

Sunday, 22 August 2004

Stuart Dickson

Responding to a comment from Andrew Ian Dodge today, Stuart has written:

“Scots are not "caucasian". Scots come from every race in the world. To be Scots is not an ethnic qualification, it is a civic one. Exactly the same for the English. Is Naomi Campbell "caucasian", or Ashley Cole "caucasian", or Burt Kwouk "caucasian"? What a nasty little rascist Andrew Ian Dodge is.”
I suspect that Andrew is a resident of London and is likely to have noticed that not all British people are Caucasian. It is obvious, I think, that Andrew was making the point that there isn’t any real difference in the racial make up of people in the UK as a whole. Stuart seems to use the word "racist" rather too indiscriminatingly. The only thing written in over fifty comments on this thread that could conceivably be described as “racist” was Harry J’s:
“Scotland is second only to Wales in hereditary socialist tendencies,(HST) a racially linked, genetically based disorder.”
Harry subsequently pointed out that he was attempting to be humorous. I can see why those of us born in Scotland or Wales might not be too amused but we all go a bit over the top from time to time without that making us racists. For example:
"I can understand that any nation may have a Quisling or two, but for Scots to endure the bigoted insults of an American (of all people) British Unionist is surreal.

You claim to be impartial as to whether Scots regain self-government. But your opinions betray a smothering Unionism.

What a bunch of thugs you are. The many Scots who supported you in the war of independence and signed the Declaration of Independence must be turning in their graves at the monster they helped create."

And the author of those words?

Stuart Dickson!

Stuart replied to my objection as follows:

In retrospect it was certainly an error to call our US correspondent and/or his fellow countrymen various insulting adjectives. It did my arguments no help. The reason I did so is that my time to give reasoned, detailed responses to the man's flawed arguments were too limited in the last 10 days, therefore I resorted to cheap (and very quick) retorts. In future, when time is too short, I shall keep my mouth shut.
A good response, I believe.

I didn't believe that Stuart was being "racist" when he described Americans as "a bunch of thugs", but it was an unfortunate and erroneous statement. I believe that it can be legitimate to generalise about national differences. For example, generally speaking, Americans are more entrepreneurial than other nationalities (a good thing), but, generally speaking, Americans know less about other countries than do people from other places (a bad thing).

I do welcome Stuart's contributions to this blog because we need a degree of controversy and indeed more input from those who believe in Scottish independence. But can we now get away from the name-calling and return to discussing politics?

Friday, 20 August 2004

In Charlotte Square

I have been to quite a few events at the Book Festival this week. This morning there was an excellent presentation by the photographer Craig McMaster who showed some of his superb black and white photos of the Scottish countryside.

One of Tuesday's highlights was a talk given by Murray Watson on his new book Being English in Scotland. Watson carried out research that included oral contributions from many English people who had moved to Scotland. He concludes:

Generally, throughout the period under review, the media painted a picture of a climate of anti-English feeling. This was not the general experience of the contributors, nor was it evident from other sources. Studies from a number of social scientists, albeit they were mostly restricted to peripheral areas, essentially corroborated the findings of this study. That was not to say that tensions did not exist. There were low levels of anti-English feeling and exceptional extremist activity, but the latter was largely directed against England, the state (sic), and not English people. Compared with prejudicial reactions to other migrant communities, the English were largely welcomed into Scottish society, and this is certainly borne out by the constant growth of English migrants settling in Scotland.
I may write a bit more about the book once I have read it in full. Tuesday's audience liked this anecdote from an English-born teacher now residing in Edinburgh:
I had a dreadful (West Riding – Yorkshire) accent and nobody would ever understand me. My first teaching-practice (in Edinburgh) the kids that I had said: “You’re foreign aren’t you?” And I said: “Yes” … they said to me: “Where are you from?” And I said: “Well where do you think I’m from?” “Well you’re not from round here.” And this went on … at great length. “It must be from a very long way away ‘cos you are definitely foreign. You talk funny.” So they decided that I was from Glasgow because that was the furthest place they could think of that was far away you know.

Thursday, 19 August 2004

It's our money

Our new parliament building has cost £431 million (so far) and today's Scotsman poses an interesting question:
Everyone has a view on the parliament - but if you could turn back time and start again with the hundreds of millions of pounds eventually spent on the site, what would you do with it?
The paper has asked a selection of the great and the good what would they do with the cash. The answers are, sadly, somewhat predictable. Almost all of the respondents call for "public" expenditure of one sort or another. But what of freedom, and indeed whisky?

The Owner of Glengoyne whisky distillery says:

If I was going to be flippant, I would give several bottles of whisky to each member of the public - £431 million divided by Scotland’s population of about five million people is £86 and that equates to around four bottles of good single malt for every single person.

But if I was going to be serious about it, I would divert the money into education because if Scotland is to remain competitive in the global economy it has to educate the population.

China and India both have extremely well-educated populations and salaries in those countries are relatively low compared to ours.

Mr Russell doesn't seem to realise that private education is far more appreciated in India and China than in Scotland. Putting even more taxpayers' money into the maw of the Scottish state education system would be a disaster. It would be far less "flippant" to let us have the four bottles of malt!

As for freedom, AL Kennedy gives what is the correct answer to the Scotsman's question:

why not just give everyone £86, or let everyone who wants to claim it so that if some people don’t, everyone else can get £87 or whatever it turns out to be?
Unfortunately, Ms Kennedy spoils thing by prefixing her answer with this:
The sensible answer is to spend it on something useful like public services, healthcare and education.
Oh dear.

Of course, the really correct answer would be to give the £431 million back to the taxpayers in proportion to how it was collected.

Adam Smith statue

I came across this announcement from the City of Edinburgh Planning Department:
Application No. 04/02172/FUL (Full Planning Application)
Proposed Development and Address
Erect Adam Smith statue at Public Footpath By 194 High Street Edinburgh EH1 1RE
Applicant’s Name and Address
Adam Smith Institute (Dr Eamon Butler). 23 Great Smith Street London SW1P 3BL
Decision TYPE Delegated Decision

Tuesday, 17 August 2004

History lessons

Alex Salmond wants children to understand more about our economic history. That's a good idea. But then he says:
the curriculum should highlight the fact that Scotland was once one of the world’s richest nations.
I wonder if "left-of-centre" Alex will want children to learn that we were rich when we weren't socialist.

Monday, 16 August 2004

Never mind the "community"; what about the victim?

The Labour/LibDem administration is mightily concerned about the problems caused by young criminals. Or, more accurately perhaps, they are worried about the voters' concerns:
FIRST Minister Jack McConnell today revealed details of a new scheme to make yobs and vandals put right the damage they have done to society. Those found guilty of relatively minor offences, such as spraying graffiti or being drunk and disorderly, are to be forced to work unpaid for up to 100 hours as part of their punishment.
So the yobs are going to get what they deserve, aren't they?

I'm not so sure.

Apparently, these wonderful new plans will:

force individuals whose behaviour blights the lives of others to give something back by doing unpaid community work.
And, assuming that the police are actually out on the beat:
people picked up by the police for minor offences such as being drunk and disorderly, or one-off acts of vandalism, could be given a community reparation order instead of, or as well as, a fine.
Along with its talk of "community reparations" the article goes on to mention: debts owed "to the community", taking something "from you community" and giving "something back to the community".

This policy is supported by the governing coalition, the main opposition party, and it wouldn't surprise to hear that all of the other parties are in agreement too.

Well, I'm not.

All this talk of "community" is precisely what's wrong with Scotland. Collectivism rules OK, it seems. But what about the individual?

Almost all crime has an individually identifiable VICTIM. It is to that victim that criminals should make reparation, not to an amorphous "community". Criminals should be made to pay thrice for their crimes. First, the victim should receive 100% compensation from the criminal for losses directly attributable to the crime. Second, the victim should receive the same sum again to compensate for the stress that the criminal has caused. Third, the criminal should pay the costs of his arrest and trial. Anything short of this is unjust.

Compensate victims, not the "community".

Friday, 13 August 2004

Our weather - you cannot be serious!

Since Monday Edinburgh has "enjoyed" continuous rain, mist, low cloud and general meteorological misery. Until lunchtime today. Now I can't look at my screen anymore because I am being blinded by a fierce sun shining in a completely blue sky.

At least this isn't coming our way. Hopefully.

Make them sign up

I must say that I agree with Alex Salmond over this.

The MP wants all staff at SNP headquarters to be paid-up party members. What's wrong with that? It's perfectly natural for managers to want employees to support an organisation's product, especially when that "product" is ideological.

Of course, the Scotsman correspondent who writes that Mr Salmond and his supporters have:

so little regard for employment law that they believed they could force workers into changes to their terms and conditions without consultation or negotiation
is probably correct.

Nevertheless, employers should have the right to lay down whatever conditions of employment that they see fit. Equally of course potential employees can go elsewhere if they don't like the proposed rules. Let the market sort out terms of employment.

The housing shortage

I recently wrote about the proposed doubling of council tax for second home owners. Several readers pointed out that the Scottish planning system was to blame for the shortage of homes, especially in rural areas.

The building industry agrees:

Homes for Scotland, which represents the house-building industry, said current housing needs were being ignored because local-authority planning departments were bound by old local plans. Last month, a report by the Scottish Executive found 40 per cent of local plans were more than a decade old.
How many private companies would survive if they were using ten-year-old plans?

Thursday, 12 August 2004

Tory calls for more tax on petrol!

There's been a lot of debate on the web and elsewhere about the future - if any - of the Conservative (sic) Party.

Here's a good example of why the Conservatives are in such a mess:

NOT enough tax is levied on fuel and the government should increase the level of duty charged to deter people from using their cars, a committee of MPs concluded yesterday. The environmental audit committee of the House of Commons said that ministers are not doing enough to persuade people to use less fuel, and must be prepared to use tax as a lever on them.
Surely the Tories don't go along with this?

Oh yes they do:

"If the government’s commitment to sustainable development is to be taken seriously, it must take more radical action," said Peter Ainsworth, the Tory MP who chairs the committee.
It's bad enough that all the other parties fall for the Kyoto scam: there's a clear gap in the political marketplace for some alternative thinking. Can't Michael Howard see this?

Tuesday, 10 August 2004

Education, educasion, edukashun

I was pleased to read this:

MORE and more parents are considering taking their children out of mainstream education so that they can be taught at home, campaigners claimed yesterday. Fears over bullying, classroom indiscipline, falling teaching standards and a lack of support for children with special needs are being blamed for the trend.
"Falling teaching standards"?

Perish the thought.

But, on the other hand:

EXAM pass rates are up on this time last year, according to figures released last night by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA).
It's good news for pupils (for the moment) I suppose:
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton, the Tories’ education spokesman, said debate will rage over whether the rising pass rates mean exams are getting easier but added: "All that matters now is that those who passed their exams should be congratulated on their results."
But when Lord James - the gentleman of Scottish politics - uses the word "rage" we know that not everyone is so sanguine about the continued "improvement" in pass rates.

At least with Standard Grades the pass rate inflation can't go much higher:

Standard Grade English pass rates rose by 0.1 point to 98.4 per cent, while the Standard Grade maths pass rate stayed at 97.7 per cent.
Come on: just pass them all.

Monday, 9 August 2004

Second homes and the council tax

Last Friday Bill Jamieson wrote an interesting article about the ending of the council tax discount for second home owners:
AS A soon-to-be second home owner I face hundreds of pounds of extra council tax and am wondering: what on earth is it I have done wrong? Like thousands of fellow Scots I am planning to retire out of the central belt. I bought what was a waterlogged and uninhabitable Inverogle Cottage by Lochearnhead. No-one else rushed to buy it and I know why. It has taken more than two years of planning procedures, environmental audits, building warrants and drainage work to get the basic site in order.
Of course, what Bill has done wrong is to be a self-reliant citizen. He has failed to put his future in the hands of his local councillor. How politically incorrect.

There are three letters on this subject in today's Scotsman. How about the one from Councillor Berry of North Berwick?

Bill Jamieson should count himself lucky that he has £100,000 in discretionary income. And if he wants a say in what Perth & Kinross Council do with his full whack of council tax, he should make a commitment to his supposed retirement community and move to Lochearnhead, rather than being just another absentee landlord, of which rural Scotland has always had a surfeit.
I rather expect that Mr Jamieson hasn't got "£100,000 in discretionary income". He's more likely to have incurred a sizable mortgage - just like most of Mr Berry's own electorate. And where on earth does Mr Jamieson describe himself as an "absentee landlord"? His article says that he has renovated his cottage with a view to retiring there.

For anyone still wondering why Scotland's economic growth is so dire, consider the words and tone of Councillor Berry's letter.

The Numptocracy at work

This just about says it all, doesn't it?
COUNCIL officials in Robert Burns country have come under fire after posting major blunders about the national bard on its official website. East Ayrshire Council managed to get Burns’s birth and death dates wrong, claiming he was born in 1740 and died in 1795, when he would have been 55. In fact, the poet was born at Alloway in 1759 and died in Dumfries in 1796, aged 37.
I guess things have changed since I was at school in Ayrshire. In those far off days we had to know rather a lot about the bard. It's unbelievable that the Council didn't realise that the Burns monument in its own town had been boarded up because they "could not afford on-site security". Why don't the Kilmarnock numpties guard the monument themselves? That would be far more useful than anything they get up to in the Council HQ.

I read that:

A spokesman for East Ayrshire Council said yesterday: "The mistakes were rectified as soon as they were brought to our attention."
Not good enough. They should have got it right themselves.

Adam Smith

George Kerevan calls for Edinburgh to "honour our forgotten son".

Yes, he is writing about Adam Smith. And things are happening:

Recently has come the news that some devoted intellectual followers of the great man plan to honour him with a statue
Mr Kerevan is referring to the plans made by the Adam Smith Institute for the erection of a Smith statue on the Royal Mile. I understand that the project is developing satisfactorily and that the great man will eventually be seen here:

Wondering why proper recognition of Smith has taken so long, Mr Kerevan suggests:

Again, the lack of recognition may be due to a subtle left-wing bias against what he is presumed to have stood for - a bias on the part of Edinburgh councillors and even the Church of Scotland, where they still remember Mrs Thatcher’s sermon on Smith at the 1988 General Assembly.
I have no doubt that is correct. Perhaps the new statue will encourage Edinburgh folk - even councillors - to read the works of the great economist and Scotsman.

Wednesday, 4 August 2004

Local bureaucrat criticises US invaders...

No, we're not talking about Baghdad, but Edinburgh:
One of Britain's oldest botanic gardens has banned the sale of peanuts in an attempt to deter grey squirrels. Bosses at Edinburgh's Royal Botanic Gardens said they were "fed up" with the havoc wreaked by the squirrels to some of its 15,000 plants. The move was also made amid fears the snacks could be picked up and eaten by children with allergies. Management said the public would still be allowed to bring in their own peanuts for the squirrels. Alan Bennell, the garden's deputy director of public programmes, said: "What we have here is wonderfully skilled horticulturists attempting to nurture one of the most exquisitely tailored botanic gardens in the world. "Then along comes the greedy American grey squirrel with its funny foreign habits, namely, it likes eating peanuts, and creates substantial damage to plants. "This nasty, aggressive foreign rodent has also ousted our beautiful native red squirrel from the gardens, not to mention throughout much of Britain."

It's true that Americans do have a fascination with nuts, but is Mr Bennell correct? You see, things may not be what they seem:

On the other hand:
Scotland has at least 75% of the UK's red squirrel population i.e. 121,000 animals. It remains a widespread and locally common species in the wooded parts of the country. Dumfries and Galloway is a stronghold, while stable populations are believed to exists in Perthshire, parts of the central belt, Aberdeenshire, Angus, Fife, the Borders and, of course, in Ayrshire. The core populations are in the Highlands, the Caledonian forest and Dumfries and Galloway.
So Scotland has an above average proportion of reds. Where have I heard that before?

With the festival about to start it's not really the time of year for Edinburgh officials to be loud mouthing American visitors even if they do have "funny foreign habits". Besides, shouldn't Scotland's reds become more entrepreneurial and grab more of the nuts for themselves?

Property rights update

Readers may be interested to note that I have received a comment from Tom Forrest, owner of the Cromasaig Guest House.

Tuesday, 3 August 2004

Are you being served?

Gavin Esler writes about the experience of his American friends who have been visiting Britain:
But it also summed up the problem that tourists still find in tea-rooms, pubs and restaurants from one end of Britain to the other. It’s a simple confusion between service and servile. And what a difference that one letter makes.
Esler continues:
Which brings us back to the difference between service and servile. Foreign waiters - Americans, French, Spanish, Portuguese - seem capable of providing service without feeling that the job they do is demeaning. British waiters - and I think Scots are particularly guilty of this - sometimes act as if being a waiter or waitress is not a proper job.
I wonder what's behind this problem. Sadly, I have to agree that service is much worse in Scotland than it should be. I see this almost every day here in Edinburgh. Bus drivers, bar staff and shop assistants often treat customers with complete disdain. Why snarl angrily at tourists who get on their first bus here without realising that "we don't give any change"? When a foreigner is sitting for ten minutes in a pub would it harm a staff member to tell the visitor that they need to go up to the bar to get served? I've done it myself enough times - maybe I should get free beer. We have a well-deserved reputation for friendliness but there's a real problem when it comes to customer "service". Is it worse here in Scotland because of the widespread socialist mindset? I think that's part of the explanation but I don't notice the same problem in other European countries. On the other hand, Scotland is now more socialist then even Sweden. Tourism is said to be our biggest industry. How do we fix this problem?

Monday, 2 August 2004

Letting the punishment fit the crime

The Scottish Executive makes a great deal of noise about fighting crime. It doesn't seem to have had much success. Maybe it's time to consider this novel approach:
When Sherelle Purnell sped away from Gordy's Tiger Mart without paying for $4.52 worth of gasoline, she probably didn't think the punishment would be three hours of court-ordered public humiliation. But from noon. to 3 p.m. today, the 18-year-old will be standing in front of the convenience store near The Centre at Salisbury on Route 13 wearing a sandwich board sign that reads: "I was caught stealing gas." Though Wicomico County District Court Judge D. William Simpson authorized the punishment, the unconventional sentence was the brainchild of Tiger Mart store manager Jan Phippsnovel

And here's the punishment:

She probably escaped a longer sentence by wearing the baseball cap the right way round.

Boosting our productivity

A report from the International Institute for Management Development draws attention to Scotland's poor productivity record:
IMD, the Swiss-based business school, published its annual rankings of national economies yesterday and included Scotland for the first time. According to IMD, the Scottish economy is ranked 36th out of 60 in the global table, but 21st out of 30 when compared to countries and regions of a similar size.
36th is pretty lousy for a country that once led the world in science and inventiveness. But help is at hand. Right on cue, someone has identified a potential productivity improvement:
Ray Donnelly, a retired management lecturer, said ordinary three-year courses could be reduced to 18 months and the four-year Honours degree trimmed to two and a half years. This could be achieved by lengthening the traditional university day and cutting the length of holidays taken by students and lecturers. He said that the changes to students’ working day would also make graduates more ready for the world of employment. Last night, business leaders gave a cautious welcome to the suggestion.
I agree with Mr Donnelly. His figures are interesting:
The former lecturer said that to gain an ordinary three-year degree, students had to complete 12 courses of about 24 hours a term. At present, the load is spread over two ten-week terms and one six-week term.
If we (generously) assume that workload is incurred in all three terms we get 864 annual hours of study. The typical employee works for around 1700 hours per year. And let's not forget that those same employees are financing students through their taxes.

According to the website of the Open University:

The number of credit points given to the course: a 60-point course involves on average 600 hours of study
To get an OU degree requires 360 points - that's 3,600 hours of study in all. This compares with Mr Donnelly's figures of 2,592 hours for an ordinary degree and 3,456 for an honours degree at conventional universities. Not only that, most of those OU students are holding down jobs while studying. I know: been there, done that, got the T-shirt.

The non-government University of Buckingham manages to do what Mr Donnelly suggests and utilises time and resources efficiently thus allowing students to graduate in two years.

If we won't privatise our universities at least let's make them efficient.

Sunday, 1 August 2004

Even I couldn't have made this one up

Here comes the latest "Big Brother" database:
A DATABASE of every Scot who deliberately self-harms is being planned in a bid to dramatically reduce suicides. The list, which would be held centrally on computer, would be available to psychiatrists and other health specialists across the country as a means of assessing the risk that individuals pose to themselves.
Why don't we cut out the waiting and get ourselves barcoded and fitted with RFIDs right now?

If that's a bit much we could at least dig out the ballot papers from the last election. You know of course that their identification numbers enable the authorities to determine how we have voted. The psychiatrists could then make a list of those who have "self-harmed" themselves by voting for someone other than the Labour candidate. You know it makes sense.