Monday 31 March 2003

Silver investing

Fellow Edinburgh blogger Roland Watson of the Holy Blog has had this article published on the Gold-Eagle website

Save Iraqis - give them markets

John Blundell of the Institute of Economic Affairs says that Iraq needs the rule of law and functioning markets rather than international "aid". According to the Heritage Foundation's Index of Economic Freedom, countries that defend property rights and economic freedoms are the most prosperous. Hong Kong is number one and North Korea comes in last at 156. Let's hope that Clare Short is reading up on Adam Smith if she wants to help a post-war Iraq.

But what of Scotland? The Heritage Index puts the UK at number 9 (equal with Australia) in the economic freedom listing. John Blundell reckons that an independent Scotland would only make 60th spot in the freedom charts. Scottish nationalists are always pointing to the example of Ireland as a successful independent country of similar size to Scotland, but Ireland scores 5th on the freedom index. Ireland is prosperous, partly through EU subsidies, but mainly because its politicians are instinctively pro-business. The opposite applies in Scotland. All too many people discuss Scotland's economic prospects in terms of how much oil would accrue to an independent government or whether the Barnett squeeze will create a funding shortfall. The real question is how much economic freedom we have and whether property rights are recognised. That depends on our political culture, not on natural resources or subsidies from south of the border.

No smoking - by order

Now New York wants to follow the example of California in banning smoking in bars. The US is fighting a war that is claimed to be in defence of western values. There's not much point in attempting to spread freedom abroad while wiping it out at home. As a New Yorker said:
I don't think that local government should be telling us what we should or shouldn't do with our bodies
He is quite right. Smoking policies should be decided solely by property owners and not by the state. Bring back American freedoms.

Sunday 30 March 2003

Business and education.

This article in the Sunday Herald says that Scotland's political and business communities share a considerable "unity of purpose" on education, skills and lifelong learning. But this is an interesting observation:
Bob Leitch, director of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, says it is critical that politicians do not confuse a highly educated workforce with that of a highly skilled one. He says the latter is what is required, rather than focusing simply on churning out ever greater numbers of graduates. 'We turn out twice as many LLBs in Scotland as there are law apprenticeships available but only half as many engineers as we need,' he says.
The CBI's McMillan says that employers in Scotland spend £2 billion a year on training but it is questionable if it is money well spent as many courses are funding-led rather than demand-led
The reason why we have too many lawyers and too few engineers is that higher education is largely paid for by the state and not by students. I recall asking the head of administration at a British university what proportion of the cost of a typical degree was covered by payments made by the student. His reply: "No one has ever asked me that before." Students need to take responsibility for the full cost of their education and the earnings necessary to pay for it if we are get "demand-led" courses.

Saturday 29 March 2003

By request of Mrs Farrer:


Reader David Malloch has sent me an e-mail that compliments my Edinburgh photographs but suggests that they would be better without the demonstrators!

This one is for you, David:

For other photographs of Edinburgh and many other places, I recommend this site

Anti-war demonstration in Edinburgh this afternoon

Anti-war demonstration in Edinburgh this afternoon

Pro-Royal Navy counter-demonstrators.
The guy with the blue cap and grey top said that he supported Freedom
but was too young to drink Whisky!

If she ruled the world...

Robert McNeil is the Scotsman's parliamentary sketch writer and with the Scottish election looming he has produced an end-of-term report on our MSPs. McNeil's daily reports indicate that he doesn't have much time for right-of-centre politics but it looks like he has the hots for the Tory deputy leader:
GOLDIE, Annabel Con, West of Scotland list ***** Fragrant goddess, household dynamo, oratorical nymph, incorruptible maiden, damsel of democracy, and bleedin’ all-round brilliant bird. Brings own doilies. Good at dusting. Despite all of which, she debates well, crafts grand speeches, and has a deep understanding of politics.
McNeil has rated MSPs on this scale:

***** Could rule the world
**** Could rule the country
*** Could rule a council
** Could rule a residents’ association
* Couldn’t rule an allotment
+ denotes a half star

Sadly, nobody has been rated with one star but, reading between the lines, it is probably warranted by some two-star folk.

I have done a little analysis of the ratings and can report average scores by party:

Labour: 2.96
SNP: 3.45
Conservative: 3.5
Liberal Democrat: 3.5
Others: 4.3
The largest party (Labour) has the lowest score and their typical MSP "couldn't rule a council". Some of us have noticed! Does the Labour machine select numpties as candidates through some sort of "market failure"? I have a horrible feeling that Labour's candidates truly reflect the party's membership.

The "others" do well, presumably because it is difficult to get elected in this category unless you're well above average and once elected they get more exposure than backbenchers from the larger parties and can learn "on the job".

All in all, a fascinating report.

Friday 28 March 2003

Not much blogging today

It's been impossible to update anything since early morning so instead of staring at the screen all day I went for a drive in the country. The weather here has been superb for at least two weeks and the television news tonight said that Scotland has been warmer than much of southern Europe throughout March. We had 8.9 hours of sunshine yesterday with temperatures up to 61F, the same as Malta and Tangier. As the man somewhere in the Highlands said, "If this is global warming, I'm all in favour of it."

It looks like it will be hot in Edinburgh in other ways tomorrow....

"Double Standard"

The Scotsman's business editor joins in the row about executive bonuses at Standard Life and calls for a vote against the board.

Thursday 27 March 2003

Launch of new parties

The Scottish People's Alliance was launched yesterday and is, according to the Scotsman, "promoting a centre-right agenda":
The alliance is clearly aiming most at disillusioned Tory voters, particularly by outflanking the Conservatives on the right by pledging to cut Scottish income tax by 3p in the pound, abolishing all Scottish MPs and reclaiming Scottish territorial fishing waters from Europe.
We libertarians reject the left-right political spectrum but are certainly in favour of cutting taxes and reducing the number of politicians. The SPA will however lose the support of freedom-minded people by calling for the introduction of identity cards as reported in the Glasgow Herald.

Meanwhile the Residents' Parking Independent Party has announced that it will contest seats in the Edinburgh City Council election.

Wednesday 26 March 2003

Cut taxes now

There seems to be little doubt that business rates (property taxes) are higher in Scotland than in England. Clearly this has an adverse impact on business formation and growth in Scotland. The government here has introduced a slanting of the business rates away from small companies to medium and large ones. Spokesmen for larger companies aren't happy:
Duncan Tannahill, chief executive of Glasgow Chamber of Commerce, said: "Bigger firms are being punished twice - by losing uniform business rates and by subsidising small firms. We support the relief scheme but think it should be paid by the executive, not by other businesses."
When Mr Tannahill says that the relief scheme should be paid for by "the executive" he seems to think that governments have money of their own. They don't. He's really calling for the rest of the population to pay more tax. Business leaders should be calling for a reduction in the size of government, not for switching taxation from companies to individuals.

There is more here on this issue.

Tuesday 25 March 2003

Young vandals

If the police didn't have to spend so much time on the ludicrous war on drugs perhaps they could spend more time dealing with this sort of nonsense.

This is wrong

The two top executives at Edinburgh based Standard Life have given themselves bonuses of almost £500,000. Understandably policyholders are upset:
But last month millions of savers with Standard Life were told their bonuses had been cut for the third time in a year, with some payouts slashed by more than 50 per cent in some cases.

Plunging share prices have wiped an estimated £20 billion off the value of Standard Life’s with-profits fund in the past year, and the insurer took the drastic action to shore up its cash reserves.

Standard Life is mutually owned and the executives have more job security than those at shareholder owned companies. They shouldn't be taking bonuses of this magnitude in the present investment environment. I am myself a Standard Life policyholder but fortunately switched my investment from the "with profits" fund into the cash fund before the stock market slump. Those still in the with profits fund have lost heavily.

Give the bonuses back.

Monday 24 March 2003

The army marches on its stomach

Much has been made of the superior US base facilities in Kuwait. They apparently have burger outlets and cinemas; the British troops have had to buy some of their own equipment. But BBC Radio 5 tonight tells us that all is not lost on the British side. Americans are supplied with MRE - Meals Ready to Eat but much prefer to get hold of British rations, which include Mars Bars. This is understandable but can the US Marines handle Chicken Vindaloo not to mention marmite sandwiches?

French letter

Here is an observation from France:
My friend Robert Harneis is a historian and Francophile. His views sum up the more complex view here in my part of France: "As I catch up on my Iraqi studies, I have to say that I increasingly sympathise with the Americans. Saddam Hussein is a very dangerous man. I think that the war is not about oil but rather who controls the vast amount of money which Iraqi oil will sooner or later generate. It is, however, clear that in the short term the US and Blair have lost the public relations war."

Right and Left

The Glasgow Herald writes about Internet coverage of the war. The article says that:
The three biggest American news networks - CNN, ABC, and CBS - have gone into competition with each other and with magazines such as Newsweek and internet providers, including Micro-soft's MSN and Yahoo!
Then, the Herald writes:
In contrast,, the left-wing website which came to prominence in the wake of the Genoa anti-capitalist riots in 2001, carries reports of human shields positioned in Baghdad. Alongside reports of global protests, the site features links to reports by Robert Fisk, the foreign correspondent for the Independent, and Noam Chomsky, the academic and critic of US foreign policy.
The writer seems quite oblivious of the fact that CNN is reviled by "rightwing" Americans as being the "Commie News Network". Indeed, many Americans have grave doubts about the neutrality of ABC and CBS. Unsurprisingly, the dead-tree media reporter fails to mention the huge amount of coverage and comment on the war that appears in the blogosphere.

Just imagine it!

Katie Grant's 11-year old son is a wise young chap:
As we watched the "shock and awe" together, I wondered aloud what Tony Blair’s children were making of it all. "I’m glad I’m not them," my son declared in heartfelt tones. "The war?" I asked. "No," he said. "Imagine having Cherie for a mother."
Quite so!

I won't drink to this!

Tell me it isn't true! The Glasgow Herald reports that:
DIAGEO, the drinks giant, is beating Asian import tax regulations by sending whisky concentrate to the far east and diluting it with Filipino water.
If I ever go Asia I'll be taking my own supplies.

Sunday 23 March 2003

The British crown's 400th birthday

Did you know that the 400th anniversary of the Union of the English and Scottish crowns falls this week? Scotland on Sunday carries a very interesting article by Gerry Hassan that discusses the subsequent parliamentary Union and its future. He maintains that both defenders and opponents of the Union have failed to promote their cases adequately:
The Union has not been aided by its friends. First, we had the Thatcherite defence of an intransigent, inflexible Union, which went against the wishes of a majority of Scots. This discredited the term "unionism" to a generation of Scots. Second, we have seen Labour in power in Westminster and Holyrood continue some of this, emphasising that the Union saves Scotland from the horrors of governing itself, because we lack the confidence, talent and finance to make a good fist of things ourselves.
As for the Union's opponents:
The tenor of the debate has also not been aided by critics of the Union. An appropriate understanding of the Union has not been aided by the fundamentalist Nationalist case that the source of Scotland’s problems lies in the Union with England, and it is this which keeps us subservient and lacking freedom.
Hassan goes on to suggest "ground rules" for the ongoing debate. Briefly, they are:

1. Accept that Scotland could certainly be a successful independent country.
2. Acknowledge that Scotland is "not held down by a Unionist conspiracy".
3. Recognise the perspectives and traditions of others.
4.Understand that the rest of the present UK (and that means England in particular) will always be important to Scotland, politically and culturally, whatever the eventual constitutional outcome.

These ground rules seem to be exactly what the ongoing debate in Scotland needs.

Saturday 22 March 2003

To the county of Adam Smith

I am grateful to Alex Singleton for inviting me to last night's meeting of The University of St Andrews Liberty Club. The guest speaker was Bill Emmott, editor of The Economist. I was able to ask Mr Emmott a question about Britain's relationship with the rest of the EU in the context of the Iraq war. In the event of a satisfactory outcome, he thought that Tony Blair might well call for a referendum on entry into the Euro within eighteen months.

Friday 21 March 2003

Should air routes be protected?

The economy of northern Scotland is very dependent on the air route to London Gatwick:
GEORGE McRae, general manager of White's Electronics in Inverness, a US-owned metal detector manufacturer, believes that daily return flights at business-friendly times to one of London's two biggest airports are vital to the region's economy.
Mr McRae agrees with local politicians that the Inverness to Gatwick route be protected by means of a Public Service Obligation:
The Council, together with a number of Highland partners, lodged an application for a PSO on the Inverness – Gatwick route in November of last year. It had the full backing of the Scottish Executive. The PSO would ring fence the three daily return slots at Gatwick, preventing them from being taken over by any other service.
As a good free-marketer, I don't like the idea of the state telling airlines and airport operators how to run their businesses. Nevertheless, the UK is a uniquely centralised (actually, south-easternised) country - not as a result of market forces but because of government policies. Over 40% of our GDP is spent by the state; the balance is increasingly regulated by the state and, to a greater extent than elsewhere in the western world, that spending and regulating is concentrated in London.

This is why transport links from the "provinces" (is that term used in any other country?) to the capital are so important. Let's decentralise the UK governing machine out of London, thus helping we provincials. Better still, let's abolish or privatise at least 90% of government activity.

More police seek the help of plane spotters

As at Fairford and Stansted, police at Manchester Airport are recruiting the help of plane spotters, as "police believe they are in an ideal position to spot any terrorist activity".

Thursday 20 March 2003

A new service from Freedom & Whisky

These photographs were taken today in Edinburgh. They show an anti-war demonstration by local schoolchildren. Camera used was a Yashica T4 compact using Kodak Gold film scanned to a CD by a local one-hour processor.

Sitting Down.

Edinburgh Castle

You're booked!

The first arrest.

Passing the Royal Scottish Academy with the Scott Monument in the background.

The march moves from Princes Street to the Old Town.

Another group arrives from James Gillespie's High School

Princes Street with Balmoral Hotel in background

The mother of all liberations

Wonderful news. A Douglas DC-3 (my favourite aircraft) has been hijacked from Cuba and returned to its homeland.

The BBC teletext headline spoiled its report by insultingly describing the DC-3 as a jet!

Wednesday 19 March 2003

Say yes to home schooling

It is rather unusual to read something in the Scottish press that is in favour of home schooling:
Home schooling has moved on a great deal in the past 20 years and as numbers grow it is becoming a less isolating choice, with parents getting together in groups and networks to share ideas and using things like kumon, the oriental learning system, which runs nationwide drop-in classes, to help.

....It is high time Scotland rethought its old-fashioned approach to home education. We need to learn to think a bit more out of the box. Why not encourage it? Or at least support it? These are committed parents who are often giving up earning power to spend at least part of their time teaching their kids. They are also taking a burden off the state system.

Seeing this article in the normally very statist Glasgow Herald is especially encouraging.

Schoolhouse is Scotland's own pro-home schooling organisation. Have a look at Brian's Education Blog for more discussion on matters educational.


This message appeared on the Haloscan website:

Server work in progress Everything should be back and running later today. The missing comments from some accounts will be restored the day after. 03/19/2003
Let's hope this is correct.

Tuesday 18 March 2003

History lessons

Gillian Bowditch is rightly shocked that her babysitter had never heard of Chairman Mao:
"Who," asked the babysitter, "is Chairman Mao?" Not such a surprising question, perhaps, except that the babysitter is a third-year student of history at one of Scotland’s more prestigious universities.

A quick run through the key attributes of Maoist China failed to elicit any flicker of recognition. The Long March, The Little Red Book, The Cultural Revolution all meant nothing to her. Communism rang a vague bell. She would, she said, ask her tutorial group if any of them had heard of Chairman Mao, but she was pretty sure the answer would be negative.

Apparently the young lady had only been taught Scottish history. I think that it is important for people here to know something of Scotland's history and, as with Ms Bowditch, little of it was taught to me at school. Surely, though, it is astounding that a third-year history student hasn't heard of Chairman Mao. Actually, it's a condemnation of our entire education system that anyone, history student or not, should leave school in such ignorance of the modern world.

Monday 17 March 2003

Hitler: not exciting enough!

I am currently reading Nemesis, the second volume of Ian Kershaw's excellent biography of Adolf Hitler. A TV series is being made based on Volume 1 (Hubris). But there is a problem and Kershaw has quit the production:
The US network CBS, which is funding the series, suggested Sir Ian’s biography was too dry to air on prime time TV.

Last week, the author gave no detail on why he left the production but said: "I took the decision some months ago. I have not fallen out with the production company but have had no dealings with them since I withdrew."

What exactly was wrong with the first book that made it unsuitable for television?
The president of CBS, Leslie Moonves, said the film was no longer based on Hubris because the book was an academic piece and was "quite dry and needed more incidents".
After reading some 600 pages on Hitler's life, I venture to suggest that a shortage of incidents was not a noticeable feature of his career - and I've only got as far as 1937.

Business is really, really upset

Now that I have read the dead-tree version of the Scotsman, I see that there is more in it today about the alienation of Scottish business from Labour. The Scottish Political Editor quotes businessman Jim Hunter:
"The Executive’s record on manufacturing in Scotland is absolutely abysmal. They have decimated the home-grown manufacturing base in Scotland in favour of supporting foreign firms and inward investment. As a businessman, I would not give my support to Labour again.

There is more in the business section, although your Norton Privacy Control may reject the link.

The coming return of business?

The Scotsman's George Kerevan says that the time is ripe for business to get back into politics. Describing the Glasgow City Chambers, Kerevan reminds us:
... this redoubt of the Glasgow Labour administration - and Glasgow is likely to be the only major Scottish city still in Labour hands after 1 May - was clearly not built by anyone of a left-wing persuasion. Its magnificent 1880s facade depicts Queen Victoria receiving the homage of the Empire. It is a tribute to the time when Scottish politics, at both national and local level, was dominated effortlessly by the business class.
I read yesterday's reports about the disillusionment that has set in among those business leaders who pledged support for Labour during the first elections for the Scottish parliament four years ago:
the entrepreneur and property developer (and also owner of Rangers Football Club) David Murray denounced the Labour-dominated Executive for being dominated by "teachers, councillors and researchers" with little direct understanding of business.
Well, I could have told Mr Murray that in 1999 although, to be fair, I don't have his moneymaking skills! Let's hope that business people get more involved in politics here in Scotland. He who pays the piper should call the tune.

Sunday 16 March 2003


Some of you have noticed that the comments facility on this site has been behaving rather strangely. For a while all of the comments disappeared. Now, most are back, but the more recent comments have yet to return. The Haloscan server is being upgraded and I am told that recent comments will reappear shortly.

Trust the people

Scotland on Sunday carries a story (no link) about a proposed hotel at the RAF base at Leuchars in Fife. Squadron Leader Paul Marshall, business manager at Leuchars, said of potential hotel guests: "They will see nothing more overt than planes taking off, as anything that is sensitive is kept from public view."

The article points out that the hotel would be attractive to plane spotters. I noted the following item on a news group that was discussing the RAF base at Fairford, currently being used by US Air Force B52 bombers:

Would this be the same Fairford where an alliance has been formed between local spotters and the Police? The Police are distributing cards to local spotters with relevant telephone numbers should they see anything untoward. The same thing is happening at Stansted. Airport Police have agreed that the overwhelming majority of spotters are a knowledgable asset to the local force. We go to an airport/field and 9 times out of 10, what are we looking for? - things out of the ordinary!
This is excellent news. I spent my teenage years watching planes at Prestwick airport. Plane spotters are by far the most likely group to "spot" anything untoward at an airport and to help the authorities do their job.

Saturday 15 March 2003

Tax cuts?

Here's some more about the Scottish People's Alliance:
The party would also invoke a Tartan Tax - cutting income tax by three per cent - review the Land Reform Act and pull the country out of the Common Fisheries Policy.
I wonder what the Tory response will be.

Friday 14 March 2003

A load of rubbish

Gerry Hassan is correct. Scotland has a real problem with litter. Writing on Glasgow he says:
The most obvious manifestation of this is the run-down, tatty nature of so much of the city: the litter, vandalism, and graffiti.
But apparently it's better in Dundee because it's smaller and has more civic pride. I note too that Dundee has a minority Labour-controlled council whereas Glasgow is virtually a one-party state.

As Hassan comments:

Let's be blunt: there is a contemporary Scottish sentiment which likes to avoid individual responsibility and see problems as the fault of others. This allows us to be self-righteous, blame others, and wax ourselves into a terrible rage, without ever having to think about doing something or our own actions. Attractive? I think not
This problem is worst in Labour-dominated Glasgow but by no means confined to that city.

People's Alliance

Previously known as the New Party for Britain, the new "centre-right" party has now emerged as the People's Alliance. The party will be contesting the Scottish election on 1st May. What is interesting is that the Alliance has now dropped its expected policy of abolishing the Scottish parliament but rather:
The Alliance, the new centre-right force set up to contest this year’s elections, had been expected to propose the scrapping of the devolution settlement. Instead it will advocate keeping the Scottish Parliament but getting rid of Scottish MPs.

... Under the party’s plans, there would be 56 MSPs who would use the Scottish Parliament as they do now to decide domestic policy, but then travel to London to take part in debates and vote on reserved matters, such as defence and foreign affairs.

I think that this is a great improvement on their previous policy. I don't think that there is any chance that Scots would support the abolition of the Edinburgh legislature, but there is great anger at the ever-rising cost of governance. Whether the PA will get anywhere remains to be seen. Nevertheless, I do welcome the emergence of radical proposals to reduce the size of Scotland's political class.

New links added

When I started this blog just under a year ago almost all of the links in the Freedom section were to American sites. Since then, I have added several British sites as they came on line or became known to me. Here are some further additions:

Stephen Pollard
A Letter from the Olde Countrie
Slugger O'Toole
Harry's Place
PC Watch
British Spin

All fine blogs - please have a look.

Thursday 13 March 2003

Full fiscal freedom - for schools?

Here's some good news. It's becoming noticed that government-run schools aren't too efficient:
HEADTEACHERS are paying council staff up to £250 for an electrical socket to be fitted - more than five times the going rate - because they don’t have real control over school funds, it was claimed yesterday.
Schools should be in control of their own finances and the way to achieve that is to privatise education completely.

As one of the headteachers said:

He added: "If a lad in first year passes wind in class, disrupting the lesson, he needs sorting out in 20 seconds. He does not need a gastro-enterologist, a psychologist and four social workers to discuss his life options."

The state is not your friend and it shouldn't be your teacher.

Wednesday 12 March 2003

What other kind is there?

The design for the rebuilding of the fire-damaged area in Edinburgh's Old Town has been unveiled. We are told that:
The scheme envisages a range of uses, including offices, nightclubs, residential space and possibly affordable housing.
Hang on a moment; what is "affordable housing"?

If someone is going to live in these homes it follows that they are affordable. I have a horrible feeling that these houses will be subsidised by the taxpayer so as to make them "affordable" to the lucky residents, thus making other things not affordable to those who pay for their own homes.

Tuesday 11 March 2003

If it's Saturday, this must be Scotland

Zenko Kajiyama thought that he was on the bus to Edinburgh airport.

He wasn't:

... instead, he found himself touring the city's pubs and clubs on a luxury double- decker party bus.
The bus had been booked for a mobile birthday party:
"They lifted my bags onto the bus, sat me down and I was very pleased with myself. But then the bus stopped and everyone went into a bar. "I thought that was strange, but I was enjoying myself too much. They all asked me to join in their party.
Mr Kajiyama didn't realise that he was on the wrong bus because he had "much difficulty understanding how people speak in Edinburgh". Just as well he wasn't in Glasgow, Dundee another city or he'd never get back to Tokyo.

Monday 10 March 2003

Water, water everywhere and hardly a drop to sell

Alex Bell says that the next world war will be about water:
Water as a reason for war arose because it's the only genuinely essential liquid to be found in wells, many of which are said to be running dry.
Like other environmental problems, what is needed is a proper application of property rights in water resources. Despite Mr Bell claiming that there is a water shortage, he goes on to say:
At the Johannesburg environment summit last year, Wateraid, a pressure group, claimed rectifying much of the world's water could be tackled at the cost of $25bn. Homeland security for the US has a new budget of $40bn. You could fix the world's tap for less than 1% of the US annual defence budget.
So money could fix most of the problem - paid for by the capitalist US, of course. And how come America has so much money to spend on defence? It's because the US more-or-less recognises property rights and that is the only way for countries to prosper. So, instead of bailing out failed socialist regimes, let's send them some books on basic free market economics, with a copy for Mr Bell.

Sunday 9 March 2003

Read this site

I have discovered a good site covering Scottish politics that is run by Colin Beveridge. Fellow aviation enthusiasts will also find it interesting.

I support Labour

I bet that got your attention! There is reason for this apparent madness.

In today's Mail on Sunday (no links), it is reported that the Scottish parliament has passed 40 pieces of new legislation in its four years of existence. 23 of these news laws "came from the portfolios" of the two Liberal Democrat ministers. The eight Labour ministers managed to produce a miserable 17 new laws. The Liberal Democrats are boasting about this.

Labour: more liberal than the Liberals - can I sell that slogan to Jack McConnell?

There is an alternative

John Adamson, a Cambridge academic, writes about the government-mandated dumbing-down of his university. Rightly, he is angry. Like others, he observes that the biggest problem is the underperformance of the state school system. Does he have a solution?
There are two possible solutions. The first is obvious: reforming (and refunding) the state-run schooling system so that it can compete realistically with the independent sector - a remedy that the Treasury has neither the political will nor perhaps the imagination to attempt. The second is the fake: fixing the statistics - forcing the universities to take an even larger number of working-class candidates so that the nation's education deficit - the huge potential our state schools squander every year - does not look quite as disastrous as it really is. This, of course, is as cynical as it is meretricious: fiddling the accounts, Enron-style, to make a bankrupt business look as though it works.
I don't think that either of these "solutions" will do. What is needed is to get the state out of the education business altogether. State education is an oxymoron.

Saturday 8 March 2003

A difference of opinion

Here are two letters about Edinburgh University's new admission policy. Steven Wilkinson, an Edinburgh graduate, writes:
As a University of Edinburgh graduate, I ought to be pleased that the university has decided retrospectively that the fact I attended a state school near Edinburgh, and that I was the first in my family to attend university, ought to have entitled me to some preference in admissions. But I am far from pleased, since this policy strikes at the heart of the principle of merit.
He spoils his case by saying that he "ought" to be pleased by the new policy, but otherwise gives good reasons why this policy will cause harm.

Jim Gallagher supports the new rules:

As a first-year student at the University of Edinburgh, I think the new admissions policy is fantastic and should be adopted by many other institutions.
When and if Mr Gallagher graduates, I wonder what he would say if a potential employer refuses to hire him on the grounds that a non-graduate "could have done even better if educated to the same level" and is therefore more worthy of a job.

Entrepreneurial universities

Our still-elitist universities are doing well in commerce:
Although Scotland has only 9 per cent of the UK population, it generates 14 per cent of spin-out companies from university departments, grants 15 per cent of business licences and files 11 per cent of patents.
" We already know that pound for pound we are significantly more efficient at turning university research into economic benefit than even the world-renowned American Ivy League universities, and this is further encouragement."
This is good news. I wonder how much better things would be if our universities could operate completely free of political control.

Friday 7 March 2003

Parking chaos

The Edinburgh City Council is planning to expand the controlled parking area in the city centre. The situation now is ridiculous:
Currently there are more than 10,000 permits for only 7000 spaces and there is no doubt that this causes a great deal of ill-feeling. Most residents would ask that the council revise this ratio.
People who pay a fee for parking near their own homes have a 30% chance of being unable to find a space. We know what the Labour party would say if a private company operated such a scam. Ultimately, the solution is to privatise the road network

Thursday 6 March 2003

Depressing news

This letter from George Lindsay is spot-on:
The only employment growth area is in the public sector, where 33 per cent of the working popu-lation is now employed (that is, every two private sector employees are supporting one public sector employee).
Over 40% of men in Dundee are classified as long-term unemployed. I believe that the figure in Glasgow is over 20%. "Stalin's Granny" is proud that the public sector is thriving. Doesn't she realise that Scotland's huge public sector is the cause of our low growth economic rate? Of course not. The Scotsman today tells us that only eight out of 129 MSPs have any business experience. It's all too depressing.

Gordon gets a new date

The Nationalists are upset about the delayed UK budget:
Alex Salmond, the Scottish National Party’s leader at Westminster, told MPs that moving the statement to 9 April would be an abuse of democracy as it will fall during the campaign for the Scottish Parliament.
The Tories think that the reason for the delay is to "bury the statement by delivering it a day before parliament breaks up for Easter".

But the SNP has a different angle. Delaying the budget:

is a cynical ploy at best, an abuse of democracy at worst, designed to give Labour an unfair political advantage during the elections for the Scottish Parliament.
I rather agree with Alf Young's analysis. The Nationalists are afraid that the budget will be given in the aftermath of an Allied victory in Iraq and a few weeks before the Scottish elections. By opposing the Kosovo bombing, the SNP lost votes in the first election for the Scottish parliament. To make the same mistake twice would look like carelessness. Of course, we don't yet know if they have made a mistake.

Wednesday 5 March 2003

Clever stuff

Yes, it's official: the ads at the top of this page are "targeted". Apparently, they are generated by words in the actual postings, not by the blog's title.

Tuesday 4 March 2003

Can you afford to be green?

This letter is from the Convenor of the Executive of the Scottish Green Party. Mr Corbett calls for the election of more "Green" MSPs who would be "interested in progressive causes such as the peace movement or social enterprise".

"Social enterprise." Isn't that the sort of thing that socialists and communists are always going on about? I think it is. How wonderful to note that Mr Corbett lives in Ann Street, and as we all know:

Particularly famous is Ann Street, which the poet Sir John Betjeman claimed was "the most attractive street in Britain" and which is now one of Edinburgh's most exclusive addresses.
This reminds me of the Socialist Party of Great Britain who used to assure me at Speakers' Corner in London that, once socialism had been achieved, anyone could have a Rolls Royce at no cost.

I'll settle for that house in Ann Street.

Spend, spend, spend

Now we see what happens when politicians aren't held properly accountable for their spending:
AN INDEPENDENT public sector watchdog has been urged to conduct a full investigation into the financial management of Scottish Enterprise, the troubled economic development agency.

Annabel Goldie, the deputy leader of the Scottish Tories and their economy spokeswoman, wants an inquiry to be carried out by Robert Black, the Auditor General for Scotland.

Ms Goldie said: "I am very concerned about the recent media disclosures concerning Scottish Enterprise alleging slippage of programmes, laxity of management and unexpectedly high levels of consultancy fees."

But what are required are the abolition of Scottish Enterprise (sic) and the return of money to the taxpayer, in particular by reducing business taxes. That way lays real enterprise.

More on "fiscal freedom"

The debate on the tax-powers of the Scottish parliament continues:
William Frame, a 44-year-old benefactor of the Conservative party and prominent Edinburgh property developer, called for a full debate on fiscal autonomy for Scotland and claimed the present system was a failure.

He described Scotland's economic performance as "pathetic" and said: "We have a system where all we are doing is waiting for out bit of cake from Westminster. They give us money and we decide how to spend it. There must be a better way for Scotland spending what we get

The Scottish parliament must be responsible for collecting as well as spending money. This policy is being promoted by the nationalists but I would like to see it adopted by the Scottish Conservatives. They have their spring conference in Glasgow on Friday - a good opportunity to embrace a policy that would force politicians to be less spendthrift.

Monday 3 March 2003

Including the "wrong" sort of visitor

Labour's policy of introducing free admission to museums hasn't quite worked out as planned:
The dropping of admission charges, a key plank of Labour’s social inclusion agenda, has brought many more people through museum doors, but most are from middle and upper socio-economic groups, according to the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions.

But yesterday it was claimed that many of the new visitors were the very people who could afford to pay. "Although it’s good to see such increases in visitor numbers, it’s disappointing not to see a good social mix," said visitor association director Robin Broke.

Well, there's a surprise. Labour thinks that the "working classes" can be "included" by providing them with free access to culture. Of course, it's actually the other way round: those who are interested in museums and culture are no longer "working class". Needless to say, I am using the term "class" in the way the Labour party does. A correct usage would ascribe the term "working class" to all who earn their living in the free market and "exploiting class" to those who live at the expense of the taxpayer.

The power to tax

Full fiscal freedom is back on the agenda. The idea is that the Scottish parliament be responsible for collecting all taxes in Scotland and then remitting an appropriate amount to London for common UK services. At the moment, taxes are collected by Westminster, which then sends the Scottish parliament its spending money. I accept that most of our MSPs have no conception of the economic or financial facts of life and that initially they would use the tax power unwisely, to put it mildly! Nevertheless, I see no way of making them act responsibly other than by them having to justify their tax policies to the electorate.

Sunday 2 March 2003

Own goal

Labour's election campaign, such as it is, is coming off the rails:
A CONFIDENTIAL Labour document admits the SNP’s economic message is "clearer, stronger and more consistent" than its own, Scotland on Sunday can reveal.....The stark warning by Judith Begg, a former election candidate who worked with Wendy Alexander while enterprise minister, highlights deep anxiety in Labour circles as the party prepares for the May 1 contest
This couldn't possibly be the same Judith Begg who has about two letters a week published in the Scotsman attacking the SNP's economic policy and praising that of Labour, could it? I rather think that it is. Presumably her word processor will be on hold for a week or two.

Edinburgh favoured over Glasgow?

I don't believe that the arts should be subsidised by government.

There are calls for Glasgow to get a better deal than it receives under the current arrangements:

Currently, although 30% of the one million items in Glasgow's collection are of international importance, the council receives no direct contribution from government towards its annual £17m running costs. By contrast, the national museums, galleries and libraries in Edinburgh receive more than £30m.

The nine most popular of Glasgow's museums also attract two million visitors each year -- 800,000 from overseas -- while the Edinburgh nationals attract fewer than 500,000.

Privatise the lot, I say. But in the meantime I agree that Glasgow is being treated unfairly and, yes, I am writing from Edinburgh!

Another useful idiot

Communism killed 100 million people. But the Sunday Herald's Allan Burnett says of Stalin:
... by demonising him we risk becoming complacent about the West's own crimes against humanity
We in the West are guilty, proclaims Burnett:
Terrible as Stalin was, his demonisation risks blunting our understanding of 20th century history. At worst, it can result in life under the tsars being regarded as some kind of lost golden age. Moreover, it risks making us complacent about the historical struggle for liberty and justice in our own society. .
Well, compared to the Soviet Union, life under the tsars was a golden age. Liberty and justice "in our own society" came by reducing the power of the state, not by expanding it. But people like Burnett will never learn that lesson.