Sunday, 24 June 2007

Paging Mel Gibson

The bansturbators strike again:
Kilt wearers could face prosecution if they do not have a licence for their sporran under new legislation which has been introduced in Scotland.

The laws are designed to protect endangered species like badgers and otters, whose fur used to be favoured by sporran makers.

Some folk aren't quite with the full programme:
"Are the police going to take DNA samples from the sporran of every kilted supporter who walks into Hampden?" he asked.
No, they'll want DNA samples from every fan, kilted or not.

(UPDATE: the EU's got previous on this.)

Saturday, 23 June 2007

Big Brother

We all know how tiresome it can be dealing with the state.

Like this:

I might not be the best organiser in the world but the TV license was the first thing that I did when I moved into my flat, actually didn't even have a TV yet when I did it!! This is the second time that I have received a letter like this the first time I called and advised the girl at the end of the phone of my TV license number and she advised she would put a note on the system, this time I tried to visit the website (tried calling first but they were closed) and it is under construction!!! So if you are out there TV people I HAVE A LICENSE and a DIRECT DEBIT to prove it.
There is a simple way round this kind of inefficiency that's all too endemic in capitalist society.

Ms Kelly (for it is she) could always move to Cuba! I wonder it they spell "licence" the American way too!

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

John Nicol is quite right:
I am however concerned that the "independent panel" already contains a sitting MSP, with a former MSP to be included. The panel should comprise only those not involved in the expenses scheme.
Any investigation into politicians' expense claims should be carried out by taxpayers, not tax-consumers.

Friday, 22 June 2007

The Bank of "England" is out of control

There's been a lot of talk recently about private equity funds. The latest criticism addresses the low taxes paid by the funds' bosses. It's even being suggested that the current tax regime that applies to these funds may lead to a general disillusionment with capitalism itself:
...Such people may pay income at 40 per cent on their salaries and bonuses.

But by far the greatest part of their income comes from the money they make out of taking companies private. On these vast sums, they pay capital gains tax at a rate of just 10 per cent.

This means that a number of very fortunate individuals in private equity companies are paying very little tax on huge earnings.

Nicholas Ferguson, the chairman of SVG Capital, recently said that he felt uncomfortable with paying lower taxes than his cleaner. A smaller number of buy- out partners who can claim nondomiciled status in this country pay no tax at all.

I don't know enough about these funds to know whether it's correct to apply the 10% CGT rate instead of the 40% rate that a normal salary or bonus would attract. Instead, I wish to address a point made in today's Money Week by editor Merryn Somerset Webb.

The reason why private equity funds have been doing so well is not so much the low taxes paid by their owners but rather that artificially low interest rates give equity funds an advantage over financing by shares. The UK's bizarrely-named Bank of "England" has been on a binge:

If you wanted to keep everyone happy in the short term (the very short term, that is), you could just dole out 0% credit cards and limitless interest-free overdrafts to anyone who asked for one.

The trouble with that approach of course, is that if you give everyone free money, then eventually prices end up rising.

The Bank hasn't exactly set interest rates at zero but targeting the extremely low Chavs' Price Index (CPI) doesn't help. Man does not live by iPod alone.

Money supply is growing at way over 10% pa. Inevitably, that feeds through into higher prices, including asset prices. Hence the private equity funds and hence also the house price boom. It will, as always, end in tears. The "independent" Bank of England's inflationist policies steal from savers - often pensioners - and give to the undeserving rich. That's not real capitalism; it's socialism for the pensioner and capitalism for Gordon Brown's mates in the City.

We need to remove the state from the money business entirely. Let's go back to the good old Scottish tradition of free banking. I want my savings backed by private enterprise not by the government's own pet bankers who haven't got a clue.

Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Fix that mortgage now!

Yes, the Festival approaches.

Especially this one. Sadly, the booking system was overloaded for much of today but I expect to hear most of these:

William Dalrymple
Paddy Ashdown
Michael Fry
Norman Davies
Alexander McCall Smith
Quintin Jardine
Ian Rankin
Robert Lacey
Simon Sebag Montefiore
Douglas Hurd
Richard Dawkins
James Sheehan
Tim Harford
Michael Rose
Andrew Marr
Ian Kershaw
John Gray
Peter & Dan Snow
Mark Tully
William Hague
Jeremy Paxman
Niall Ferguson
Craig Murray

New link

Welcome to the Osprey Publishing blog.

Their books are superb and arguably helped me get a First.

Sunday, 17 June 2007

Scotland becomes independent!

I've heard some Scottish Tories suggest this in private, but now it's in the public domain:
A REFERENDUM on Scottish independence could be held as early as next year after a dramatic move by Conservative leaders to support the historic poll.

The party's vice-chairman has publicly backed a referendum as soon as possible to "clear the air" over Scotland's constitutional future.

This is certainly a fascinating development and, as it will cause Labour to freak out even more, it's to be welcomed.

But let's look a bit into the future. One of the perennial arguments concerning the independence question is: what about the EU? Some argue that both Scotland and England would automatically continue as EU members as they are the "founding fathers" of the British state. Others say that England, Wales and Northern Ireland would be regarded as the "Continuing UK" and that Scotland would have to apply in its own right. For the purposes of this argument I'm ignoring the question as to why anyone would want to be in the EU!

The scene is 2008. The Scottish parliament has called for an independence referendum. Only Labour is opposed. The polls are close. Labour's leader, Wendy Alexander, claims that Scotland could be "booted out of Europe" and that all of our top companies would depart for the South. Strangely though, some English companies are talking about a move in the opposite direction...

"Good Evening. This is Newsnight with Kirsty Wark. We're going to hear from Wendy who's up in Edinburgh.

"I hope you enjoyed the holiday, Wendy. Now, what about this terrible threat to Scottish jobs that independence would bring."

"Hi Kirsty, isn't Majorca wonderful at this time of year!"

"Er, yes Wendy, but as I understand it, you don't think that an independent Scotland could necessarily remain in the EU. Is that it?"

"You got it!"

"Well Wendy, and regards to wee Dougie - he's so cute in his swimming trunks, as it happens we can sort out that question right now! On the other line I've got the European President."

"Mr President, how are you today?"

"Hi Kirsty, I'm on my way from Strasbourg to Brussels aboard Euro Force One. This Airbus 380 is so big - turn the wave machine off, Ms Caplin - so much bigger than George's tiny thingy. What's it called? Taco One! Ha! Ha! Yo Bush!"

"What we want to know, Mr President, is whether the EU would approve of an independent Scotland."

"Ah yes, Scotland. Isn't that where the Queen retired to after I made her curtsey to Cherie?"

"Yes Mr President, and she goes out hunting and fishing every weekend with Alex and Annabel. Disgusting, isn't it?"

"Well, Kirsty, in these matters I've got to consider what's best for Europe, for humanity, for the children.

"I understand that Gordon's got my old job now. And doesn't he sit for that place, Raith, yeah that's it. But he hasn't got a seat at Holyrood, has he? So if Scotland becomes independent, he's in the merde, as we sophisticates put it.

"Kirsty, your new EU/Scottish passport is in the post!"

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Blair to walk on water

It looks likely.

But will the new-look Blair give this excellent advice to his successor?

If I have wrongfully exacted anything of anyone, I restore four times as much.

We can only pray...

Scotland's future

The Scotsman's George Kerevan has fascinating piece up on Scottish Futures.

Here's a key paragraph:

Here's what the SNP leftwing always misses: it cannot be about class war - if it is, it divides, rather than unites. It cannot be about telling folk they can't do things (such as sending their kids to independent schools). It is about telling folk they can do things. It is about liberty, freedom
And this next bit sounds like the Freedom and Whisky plan (scroll down):
For instance, a sovereigntist Holyrood party would prefer to collect taxes in Scotland and use its financial clout to "buy" joint services in the UK. That would give individual Scottish electors more say in the Treasury than their personal vote in Westminster elections.
Although he wouldn't admit it, I rather think that Alex Salmond would be quite happy with this as the endgame.

Monday, 11 June 2007

The vote motive

David Steel (not that one, I presume) is concerned about government waste:
There has been a furious reaction to the £2 million publicity campaign by the Scottish Executive in a bid to persuade people to use their votes.

It appears money has been squandered on such luxuries as 43,000 pens at a cost of £28,516, which is 66p per pen, and 33,000 Post-it pads for £19,216, or 58p per pad

The commenters on the Scotsman website don't think too much of Mr Steel's complaint. I'd like to address another angle.

What's really interesting is why politicians are so desperate to get us to vote. I mean, if you're interested it's not that difficult to go along to the polling station or even to get a postal vote.

The explanation is surely that politicians are scared stiff that no one might turn up on election day. The state relies on what Ayn Rand called the "sanction of the victim". The moment enough of us realise that almost all government activity is not only unnecessary, but also a wicked rip-off, then the days of politicians will be numbered.

Tuesday, 5 June 2007

Great quote

A retired cop helped to subdue an unruly passenger on a flight to Boston. The cop's wife kept right on reading her book. Afterwards she pronounced:
"The woman sitting in front of us was very upset and asked me how I could just sit there reading," Katie Hayden said. "Bob's been shot at. He's been stabbed. He's taken knives away. He knows how to handle those situations. I figured he would go up there and step on somebody's neck, and that would be the end of it. I knew how that situation would end. I didn't know how the book would end."

Monday, 4 June 2007

The Wemyss Bay Incident

I read about this story on the scot-rail.co.uk discussion site.

Wemyss Bay is a small village on the north Ayrshire coast. It serves as the terminal for ferries to Rothesay on the Isle of Bute. A train service from Glasgow "connects" with the ferry.

On the day of the "incident" the ferry arrived about 10 minutes late at Wemyss Bay and the 25-or-so passengers rushed up the ramp to the rather beautiful station to make the train connection. You can probably guess what happened next. Yes, the conductor shut the doors and let the train leave a few seconds before any of the passengers were able to board. The next train is an hour later.

Then:

The station supervisor, hastily beat a retreat to his booking office and pointed to a sign ,in true jobsworth tradition ,stating that trains would not be held for late boats!
This event has generated a lot of interesting comments, but it seems likely that the conductor may well have been acting rationally - if he wanted to keep his job.

The train itself is operated by First ScotRail but the track and stations are under the control of Network Rail, essentially an arm of the government. Train operators must pay substantial fines to Network Rail should any of their trains run late. But Wemyss Bay is a tiny station with one train per hour, you may think. Yes, but a few miles down the track the line is joined by the one from Gourock with three trains per hour (each way). A little bit further and you're at Paisley Gilmour Street where the line from Ayr and Largs comes in with four more passenger trains per hour in both directions as well as coal trains running up from Ayrshire and aviation fuel going down to Prestwick airport. Ten minutes later you'll be approaching Glasgow Central, the busiest UK station outside London. So a couple of minutes' delay at Wemyss Bay could have led to a series of hold ups, literally down the line, that could have inconvenienced thousands of people, costing goodness knows how much in money terms.

Many of the commenters on the thread work in the railway industry and make it clear that the "jobsworth" conductor had no choice but to signal the train off on time, with or without the passengers.

Needless-to-say, some folk blamed all this on privatisation and the "bean counter" mentality. Forgetting for the moment that it's the quasi-government entity Network Rail that levies the fines, I'd like to defend the "bean counters", partly because I am one myself.

Accountants are there to tell management this:

If you want to do "X"

It'll cost you "Y"

And - this is the most important bit - you can't therefore use the same resources to do "Z".

Or, putting it colloquially, "You can't have your cake and eat it."

That's true whether the system is capitalist or socialist, but capitalism provides the incentives that guide us to use resources in the most efficient manner, as judged by consumers.

In the ideal world there'd be a train waiting for us at the station no matter when we turned up. In fact I'd like my own personal train to be kept ready at Haymarket, steam fully primed, dining car fully stocked, and ready to take me wherever I want to go at no charge. But the world isn't made like that and folk who think it is - let's call them socialists - are deluded. I'll try and remember that next time I'm at Wemyss Bay.

Sunday, 3 June 2007

Left and right: all the same?

So, most Labour members want to increase the top rate of tax to 50%.

In addition:

Almost 60% want Brown to “slow down and fundamentally rethink the strategy for ‘Blairite’ reforms of health, education and the other public services”, and to renationalise the railways even if this means putting up taxes.
No surprises with any of this really.

But what about this statement in the Sunday Times article:

Party members are not left wing on all issues. Most would back a law to allow terrorist suspects to be held for 90 days, rather than today’s 28-day limit.
So, let's get this straight. It's "left wing" to use the power of the state to expropriate much of your income and waste it on all kinds of useless boondoggles, but somehow not "left wing" to use that same state's powers to expropriate your freedom for 90 days.

The issue isn't "left" versus "right", but freedom versus statism.