Wednesday 30 April 2003

Scotland's politics

George Kerevan sums up the various parties in today's Scotsman.

On the Conservatives:

the Tories were not in favour of cutting income tax in Scotland because their polls told them the Scots wanted higher taxes. Does that include those with the skills who are leaving the country by every plane and train - and who should be the basis of any new radical anti-nanny-state party?
He thinks that a new party is required.

On Labour:

Labour’s primary electorate is the vast army of public-sector workers who grew up in the Sixties and afterwards. To these were added the new under-class that lives in the west of Scotland, spawned by the very failures of this mini Stalinist empire, with its slow economic growth and sink schools.
As for the "Liberal" Democrats:
The Lib Dems were once genuine Liberals with an anti-London, anti-urban base. Joe Grimond would not recognise their opportunist make-over into a mini socialist party of land nationalisers, trying to straddle the votes of Scotland’s state-employed middle class with the electorate’s worry that public services aren’t working.
And the SNP has:
positioned itself as a tax-and-spend Labour Mark 2, thus imprisoning itself and a frightened Labour Party in an obsolete political stance.
The other contenders for power are rightly dismissed as "loony" or "barking". Kerevan calls for parties that meet the real needs of the voters. There's no sign of that at present but perhaps it really is darkest before the dawn. It can't go on like this forever, can it?

Tuesday 29 April 2003

Property rights update

For an excellent presentation on how property rights can solve lifestyle conflicts go to the Audio site. Scroll down to the Austrian Scholars Conference 9 section and download the "Henry Hazlitt Memorial Lecture: The Road to Liberty by Gene Callahan (Economics for Real People)" talk which is available on MP3.

Property rights solution

The free market is good at solving problems. There is now a way to avoid noisy children:
Children of the 1960s will be, for the time being, excluded from Firhall Village, near Nairn, which has been developed exclusively for buyers aged 45 and over.
This is the correct way to deal with lifestyle conflicts, but I fear that it's only a matter of time before some interfering politician objects to ageist discrimination against the under-45s.

(Interesting observation: my spell checker thinks that the name of the development should be "Feral Village". No wonder children have been banned.)

More on independence

Gillian Bowditch makes the same point that I made yesterday about the prospects of an independent Scotland:
Mundell’s assertion, however, has the benefit of putting Labour and the SNP’s rather esoteric scrap about the legality of a referendum into perspective. The truth is there is only one answer to the independence question; it depends. It depends on who is running the country and on their attitude to wealth.
Unfortunately, as Ms Bowditch points out, our national attitude to wealth creation is, well, unhelpful.

A fishy story

Anglers are angry with Andre the Seal who has been out-fishing his human competitors near Loch Lomond. Threats to shoot Andre seem a bit excessive - after all it is quite likely that the seal or his forefathers had homesteaded the waters around the Loch before the humans. These matters are best resolved by a proper demarcation of property rights. In the meantime, bureaucracy has found a solution:
The seal was even issued a permit by the Loch Lomond Angling Improvement Association that allows him to fish legally in the waters.
How appropriate that Andre may eventually be sent to St Andrews.

Winning elections

The Scotsman's Fiona McCade writes of the Scottish election:
If only we used the American system, where the person with the fewest votes wins. It’s so much simpler.
Oh dear - another person who thinks that George Bush didn't really win the US presidential election. Bush actually got the most votes because the Electoral College, not the individual voters, elects a US president. There are very good reasons for having a system that gives additional weighting to the smaller states (who might otherwise not have joined the union) rather than using a national "popular" vote. I would have thought that someone writing for a Scottish newspaper would have appreciated the significance of this.

Of course, if the leftist television stations hadn't announced early that Gore had "won" Florida, the popular vote would probably have been won by Bush anyway. Most of the state is in the Eastern time zone but the strongly Republican Florida panhandle is in the Central time zone with the polls closing an hour later. Thousands of voters in the western part of Florida didn't bother to turn out for Bush because they had been told that the state had already been "lost" to Gore.

Monday 28 April 2003

Scottish independence

Scotland could be better off independent according to Robert Mundell who is a Nobel Prize winning economist:
Four days before the election, Robert Mundell, professor of economics at Columbia University, New York, not only backed fiscal autonomy for Scotland, which is SNP policy, but went further and said there was no reason why the country could not be successful under independence.
Mundell goes on to say:
"As an independent member of the EU and the European Monetary Union, Scotland would be part of the largest common market in the world and share the second-most important currency in the world. There is no reason why a Scotland that was managed well could not flourish, taking advantage of her special geographical position, oil and sea resources."
The emphasis must be on the "managed well". Most of us would agree that Saudi Arabia is well endowed with natural resources but it only managed a per capita GDP of $8,430 in 2001. Hong Kong and Singapore succeed without any resources other than the most important of all - property rights, the rule of law and a political class that favours capitalism. If Scotland had those, it wouldn't matter whether or not we had any "natural" resources.

Sunday 27 April 2003

Glasgow is short of workers!

Glasgow's plans for fixing its 80,000 council houses have ran into difficulty:
Employers in Voluntary Housing (EVH) say the lack of project managers to oversee such massive programmes could mean they are seriously delayed or not delivered at all.
The project managers are people with skills that may well be rare but what about this:
But even if Scotland had the project managers, doubts are growing about the ability of the construction industry to find the skilled workers required to do the job. The average age for a Scottish construction worker is 48 and the level of apprenticeship places is low.

Glasgow alone currently has a shortage of 6,500 construction workers, mainly joiners, bricklayers, roofers, electricians, plumbers and labourers.

Glasgow has an unemployment rate of 10% (2000-01), so why on earth is there a shortage of construction workers, including labourers? I thought that Gordon Brown's plan was to end our welfare culture. I must have missed something.

Saturday 26 April 2003

Not all readers...

... of the Scottish press are socialists.

The election campaign

The Glasgow Herald's Alf Young makes some good points about the campaign. I particularly appreciated his observations on the Nationalists:
For instance, the SNP still wants an independent Scotland, but it now thinks it can win more of us to that cause by talk of creating a low-tax environment for business - an essential pre-condition, in its current thinking, for turbo-charging Scotland's economic growth and wealth generation. However, if its No 1 fiscal priority is now to tax the profits of private business less in an independent Scotland, why is the SNP so determined to block off any prospect of some of these same companies making any money at all out of building and running state schools, hospitals, and prisons through the private finance initiative?

Its manifesto talks of PFI schools and hospitals being "run for profit rather than the public good". Clearly, it does not believe that profit should come before service provision. It rejects explicitly the "notion of PFI-privatisation" or of "financiers and bankers" profiting from the process. It has its own alternative idea for not-for-profit trusts. But Scotland's public sector represents around half the entire Scottish economy, and has done for much of the past 20 years.

Alf is correct. The pro-business SNP candidates like Jim Mather and Andrew Wilson talk a good talk about the need to encourage entrepreneurs and grow the economy but almost everyone else in the SNP is focused on spending taxpayers' money. Scotland will only achieve a strong economy when the political culture favours a much smaller state with low taxes and low spending.

Friday 25 April 2003

Scotland's Problem

There is an excellent article in The Scotsman today by Fraser Nelson. He explains why our high level of "public" spending is the cause of our economic decline and not its solution:
Money is no object for Jack McConnell - his administration is so rich that, for the first time, government spending in Scotland will this year be more than half the size of the country’s entire economy.

But how can this be, when Scotland’s cities are home to some of the most appalling pockets of poverty in Western Europe and hospitals queues are increasing? There is no more important question in Scottish politics - and the answer strikes to the heart of devolution.

Fraser Nelson was, I believe, the first to point out that Scotland has already achieved the European levels of state spending on health that Tony Blair desires for the rest of the UK and yet Scotland has Britain's highest level of dissatisfaction with the NHS. Nelson has also regularly asked why the Tories haven't made extensive use of this information. Read the whole of his article today to see what we are up against.

Thursday 24 April 2003


I have no idea whether George Galloway is innocent or guilty. There is, though, an interesting letter in today's Glasgow Herald from libertarian-conservative journalist Peter Clarke who is a business columnist with the Edinburgh Evening News. I can't give a link to the letter itself but it can be viewed on the Herald's site today. On Galloway, Peter Clarke writes:
He is honest. He is being traduced. It seems plain to me the Galloway name was being used falsely by third parties perhaps now beyond discovery or retrieval.
Scotland has several politicians whose integrity might be open to doubt. The member for Glasgow Kelvin is not one of them.
The truth will no doubt come out eventually.
Happy Birthday!

Who would have believed it?

Freedom and Whisky is one year old today.

Wednesday 23 April 2003

Labour opposes responsibility

I think that it is fair to say that Iain Macwhirter is on the "left" side of the political divide. In today's Glasgow Herald Macwhirter discusses Gordon Brown's recent electioneering visit to Scotland. It is amusing to read that Brown claimed that the Scottish Nationalists were:
promoting far-right "minimal state" doctrines.
The minimal state is not, of course, a doctrine of the "far-right" but let that pass for the moment. What is interesting is that Macwhirter seems to see that financially irresponsible politicians are not good for our economy:
Intellectual Nationalists like Andrew Wilson, who can give Brown a run for his money, believe that Scotland's poor rate of business formation and lack of an enterprise culture have arisen from decades of dependency on financial hand-outs from London.
Macwhirter writes that "right-wingers" originally supported Scottish fiscal autonomy as a way of attacking the very idea of devolution, but he then points out that:
Tory commentators like the historian Michael Fry started recasting fiscal autonomy as serious policy. He has gradually persuaded many in his party that Conservative values could be reborn in a low-tax, low-spend, post-devolution Scotland.
I recall that Michael Fry advocated a No, Yes vote in the two-question devolution referendum: that is, he was against the establishment of a Scottish parliament but, if there was going to be one, it should be responsible for raising its own revenue. I agree entirely. So do the Nationalists and many Tories and, increasingly, the business community. Just what is Labour afraid of?

Tuesday 22 April 2003

Scotland: the new Sweden

We all knew that public expenditure was far too high here but this is astounding:
SCOTLAND’S government spending is set to become the highest in the developed world, relative to the country’s economic size, as a result of Gordon Brown’s tax-and-spend bonanza.

A study by The Scotsman has for the first time placed Scotland in the international spending league tables - and found it to be only months away from overtaking Sweden for the top slot.

What is shocking is that all of our leading parties have plans for additional "public" expenditure. The Tories aren't calling for cuts in government largesse. Instead they criticise waste and inefficiency. But that's the inevitable outcome of political control. Consider this:
Scotland now spends more of its national income on health than any other country in the developed world. While this has led to higher hospital staffing levels, Scotland’s life expectancy remains the lowest in Europe.
Scotland needs much less government spending. Switzerland is the model, not Sweden.

Poetic justice

The Scottish political class has always opposed the privatisation of the water industry. Now they have to face reality as 900 jobs are axed by Scottish Water. This is not what was expected:
Jim Moohan, a senior organiser for the GMB trade union, said: "This is a major blow to the industry in Scotland. One of the reasons for us joining the campaign several years ago to keep water as part of the public services and prevent privatisation was to protect the jobs and terms of conditions of the employees, so the numbers being talked about are absolutely devastating.
Hopefully this will lead to the privatisation of Scottish Water, something that the producer-oriented politicians and trade unionists will fight to the bitter end.

Monday 21 April 2003

Letting the people speak

The Labour party has announced that it could block a referendum called by the next Scottish administration on the question of independence:
The Sunday Herald has been briefed by Whitehall that it is ready to use a veto either on legal grounds, through the advocate general, currently Lynda Clarke, and the Privy Council; or on political grounds, where the veto is held by Scotland Secretary Helen Liddell.
It doe not look very likely that the SNP will win the May 1st election. Their most likely allies in a coalition remain the Liberal Democrats who oppose an independence referendum. Why then is the Labour party making such a fuss? The Scotsman has a theory:
Could it be that the Labour Party is trying to deflect attention from something else? Like the state of the economy, for instance.
I think that may well be so. Labour could get itself in trouble, though, if people ask why it was OK for Westminster to use the military to overthrow Saddam Hussein but not allow the Scottish parliament to organise an independence referendum.

Sunday 20 April 2003

The Data Protection Registrar: don't be misled

My wife runs a hypnotherapy and life-coaching business. Last week she received an official-looking document from the "Data Protection Enforcement Agency" headed "Notification under the Data Protection Act 1998". She was asked to fill in two forms and send a cheque for £95 to cover "your notification fee and documentation for development of your codes of practice".

I have had to deal with the Data Protection Registrar in the past although the sum of £95 seemed way above what I could recall paying on behalf of other businesses. The forms didn't seem quite familiar either. I also thought that my wife's business was not required to register, but maybe the law had changed. I decided to phone the DPR for further information. Then I read in the Sunday Times Business Section an article about "data protection rip-off cowboys". The whole thing was a con. Have a look at the website of the Data Protection Registrar. The DPR fee is £35 and my wife doesn't need to register anyway. It looks as though these people write to businesses in the Yellow Pages who aren't registered with the DPR and hope to collect £95. This probably explains why so many of these organisations are based near the DPR's headquarters in Cheshire.

From a libertarian perspective, what lessons should we draw? The mailshot is cleverly written and probably these outfits do arrange registration for their "clients", keeping the extra £60 as a handling fee. There is no actual claim to be the Data Protection Registrar. I should have thought that these companies are at least guilty of misrepresentation. The DPR is taking action:

The Commissioner is keen to make clear that there is no connection between this Office and these businesses. He has been disturbed that a number of people have been confused and troubled by the wording and tone of some of the correspondence issued by these businesses. His Office is cooperating with other relevant authorities, who are exploring what action might be taken.
Of course, the government doesn't need to "explore what action might be taken" when it wants to enforce political correctness or take away the right of self-defence. Protecting businesspeople doesn't seem quite so important. At least in a libertarian society we could organise one hell of a boycott against these rip-off outfits and anyone who did business with them.

Friday 18 April 2003

No "stab in the back"

I have been reading the latest issue of Economic Affairs, the journal of the Institute of Economic Affairs. John Chown quotes from a House of Commons Social Security Committee report of 1996:
The UK's current national debt is equivalent to about £5,000 per person. If one added to that the per capita burden of our unfunded pension liabilities, the total debt burden in the UK would be some £9,000 per person. But if we took on also our share of the total unfunded pension liabilities of the EU, that figure would increase to some £30,000 of debt for every man, woman and child in this country.
Over the last few weeks, British servicemen have died in a war that was not supported by our EU "allies". How many more would have survived if support had been forthcoming?

Now we read that Tony Blair wants to take us into the Euro and become President of a United States of Europe. Quite apart from destroying the liberties of the British people, Blair's plan will cost each of us, "man, woman and child", a sum equal to the average annual wage. How many of us want to give a year of our lives to satisfy the vanity of Tony Blair?

In defence of the new Scottish Parliament Building

I note that the website of the Scottish Conservatives tells us that the cost of the new Parliament Building is running £298 million over the original budget of £40 million. Actually, it's probably more than that now and I expect the final cost to be in the region of £500 million. The Tories proclaim themselves to be a "centre right" party. We should expect them to say that the overspend would have been better left in the pockets of the taxpayers. But no, instead we are told that the £298 million could have been spent on:
100 primary schools
25 secondary schools
3 major hospitals
I am sure the Tories think that "schools and hospitals" will appeal to the electorate. Some of us, though, think that government schools and nationalised health services are positively harmful. Maybe they are "public bads" rather than "public goods". If that is so, and if the millions aren't to be given back to their rightful owners, then perhaps it's better that the money be spent on a building where we can easily find the spendthrifts and deal with them as appropriate.

Thursday 17 April 2003

The forthcoming election

The Allied victory in Iraq has been followed by a big improvement in Labour support in Scotland, with the election now being just two weeks away. Unfortunately for Jack McConnell, the latest news on the economy is not good:
By the fourth quarter, the barometer predicts Scottish GDP will be growing by less than 1 per cent per annum. It is the weakest reading on the HBOS gauge since records begin in 1986.
The Labour party is implacably opposed to calls for fiscal autonomy for the Scottish Parliament and this position used to be supported by much of Scottish business. Things are changing:
LABOUR’S hopes of winning over Scotland’s business community suffered a double setback last night when two of the country’s leading entrepreneurs called for the Scottish Parliament to be given more power and another publicly abandoned Labour, four years after signing up for the party.
We won't get business-friendly policies until basic economic realities are understood. The Scottish Parliament needs to responsible for raising its own expenditure. Tax and spend is bad enough. Spend and spend is worse.

Wednesday 16 April 2003

Food cheats

I don't approve of this:
A RESTAURANT which helps inept cooks to cheat at dinner parties by serving its own meals on customers’ crockery has been inundated with requests for help.
On the basis of numerous press reports, I always had the impression that Gordon Ramsay was a bit of a dubious character. I was wrong:
But the restaurant has been criticised by celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay, who expressed his disgust at the idea of serving ready-prepared food at a dinner party.

He said: "What’s the point having a dinner party if you are going to cheat like that? It must be a very sad scenario indeed, having to spend the evening looking your guests in the eye knowing that you are lying because you have bought the food in from the restaurant round the corner."

Well said Gordon.

Politicians and others may cheat in this way but I can assure readers that all porridge consumed in this bloghouse is freshly cooked on the premises.

Tuesday 15 April 2003

Do soldiers pay tax?

The Daily Mail (no link) is running a campaign to improve the lot of British troops in Iraq. Although American soldiers get a lower basic pay it looks like this is more than compensated for by higher benefits. An example is the £175,000 received by the widow of a US serviceman killed in battle compared to the £26,750 that a British widow would get.

The Mail is asking readers to write to the Defence Secretary asking him to allow British soldiers in combat to be paid without deduction of income tax like their American comrades. This seems very reasonable.

I would, though, like to ask a controversial question. Do British soldiers actually pay any tax at all? I contend that no one who works for the state pays any tax. Let’s take two people both earning £20,000 pa. For simplicity ignore National Insurance and personal tax allowances and assume a flat 20% income tax. Mr A works in the private sector. He is hired because his employer estimates A’s value to be at least £20,000 to his company. After tax, A receives £16,000 and his boss sends £4,000 to the taxman. His neighbour, Mr B, works for the government and also gets £16,000 after tax. For the government, though, the cost of employing B is not £20,000 but £16,000 and that is all B needs to be worth to the state. It hands out £20,000 with one hand and immediately takes back £4,000 with the other. B’s “tax” is a mere bookkeeping adjustment within the state’s overall accounts. And where does the government get the £16,000? From the tax removed from four people like Mr A.

The truth is that Mr A and others like him are taxpayers and Mr B is a tax consumer. What the Mail is actually calling for is an increase in the already untaxed gross pay of soldiers. That may well be justified but we should never forget that the state's employees consume wealth that is produced in the market sector of the economy.

A victim of the state

A New York bouncer has been murdered while trying to enforce the new anti-smoking law.

This response is correct:

"The common person always plays the victim of these political laws and my brother was their first casualty," Anthony Blake, the victim's brother, told the New York Post.
Mayor Bloomberg didn't wield the knife but he bears some responsibility for the victim's death.

Monday 14 April 2003

Is Scotland's economy a basket case?

Well, perhaps it isn't. A fascinating article in the Sunday Herald suggests not:
Between 1963 and 2001, the Scottish economy grew by 2.1% a year on average (UK 2.4%). Between 1983 and 2001, it grew by 2.2% (UK 2.6%).
That is much closer than had previously been thought.

And what about oil?

Furthermore, each of these comparative UK figures includes the output of oil and gas from the UK continental shelf. The Scottish figures do not. Take oil out altogether and between 1963 and 2001 the Scottish economy grew by 2.1% a year, while the UK managed 2.2% on average.
When the figures are adjusted for population movements we get an even better result:
When that further adjustment is made, he calculates, average annual Scottish growth actually outstrips the UK in the 1963-2001 and 1973-2001 timeframes, by 2.1% to 2% and by 1.7% to 1.6%, respectively. Only in the 1981-2001 period does the UK come out top, but only by 2.4% to 2.3%
I wonder how well we would do if our politicians actually supported pro-growth policies.

No Saddam cult

When we watched the toppling of the statue, I said to my wife that the Iraqis would be well advised to keep the pieces. They would surely become valuable. I needn't have worried: the free market did its stuff.
No sooner had the symbols of his repression been smashed and broken in the streets of the capital, than they were being traded on the internet.

One Baghdad entrepreneur, wise to the soaring value of such memorabilia, was offering a "genuin [sic] peace of Saddam statue", on the trading site Ebay, starting price £10,000.

Good for him (assuming it really is "genuin").

But why does the Scotsman journalist write that a "strange cult of Saddam Hussein lives on"? When the Berlin Wall fell, I wanted to be there. Three weeks later I was able to take a day trip from London and I returned home with a large chunk that I removed from the wall. I wasn't taking part in a communist "cult"; I was celebrating its destruction.

Party Political Broadcasts

The Nationalists have been criticised for "crossing the line of decency" and of showing "poor taste" in their new election broadcast:
The film shows an elderly man sitting, waiting for medical treatment. He slowly gets worse until he disappears, leaving his empty chair behind.
Well, maybe it is in "poor taste" but the broadcasts of other parties need to be taken with a large pinch of salt too.

But what alternative does the SNP offer on health?

From their website:

An SNP Government will invest in NHS staff and hospitals – to drive up standards and bring down waiting lists and waiting times. The SNP will end postcode treatment – ensuring excellent clinical standards wherever you live. Much can be done with the current powers of the Scottish Parliament. Independence, however, will give us the resources to invest in a world-class health service – one that puts patients before profit.
In other words, more spending by the state and a Marxist-style demonisation of "profit". Per capita expenditure on the NHS is already higher in Scotland than in England yet surveys show greater dissatisfaction with the health service up here.

What is needed is less government spending on health and more by private individuals and an acknowledgment that profit is part of the solution not part of the problem.

Sunday 13 April 2003

Tourism, again

The publicly funded VisitScotland organisation is under fire. Its call centre is accused of gross incompetence by people in the tourist business who are now threatening to boycott the service. Astoundingly, VisitScotland told callers that Perthshire was in "Aberdeen and Grampians" and that Castle Douglas was 100 miles away from its actual location. The organisation's response:
A spokesman said he was 'gobsmacked' at the Perthshire error as staff received a month's training in Scottish geography and history.
What is really shocking is that staff should need a "month's training in Scottish geography and history" to be able to do their job. Alex Neil (standing again for the Scottish Parliament) shouldn't just be criticising VisitScotland for its staff's lack of geographical knowledge but should be asking why our schools have failed to teach fundamental facts about the country.

Friday 11 April 2003


This article about Derek Reid, formerly chief executive of the Scottish Tourist Board, has some useful ideas about the Scottish economy, especially tourism - our largest industry. I agree that politicians don't seem to have any idea about how important tourism is for Scotland but they are not the only ones in need of re-education.

Earlier in the week I went for a drive. At about 1 pm I went into a pub in Kirkliston, near Edinburgh airport. I'd been before and asked for one of their cheese rolls. "Sorry sir, we don't do meals (sic) on Tuesdays." Two other men then entered and asked for the menu. Like me, they left. I eventually ended up in the small town of Dollar in Clackmannanshire. Another pub and a request for the menu. "Sorry sir, the kitchen closed at 2." This sort of nonsense has been written about often in the Scottish press. Come on people: get your act together.

A nation in trouble

Bill Jamieson is the Executive Editor of the Scotsman and regularly writes about Scotland's economy. Today he exposes the damage done when politicians get it wrong.

He mentions:

the appalling economic conditions in which the mass of the population have been forced to live.
and he exposes the:
socialist regime (that) has bankrupted a country.
The nation:
should by rights be one of the most advanced and successful economies in the world. It has the means to boast first-class infrastructure and the best schools and hospitals that money can buy. It should also have manufacturing, service and knowledge industries to compete with the best.
Bill asks:
Where has the money gone?
Well, the politicians have screwed things up:
Corrupt state ownership of the country’s vast ..... resources and central planning and control of industry and trade have wrought economic devastation.
On schooling, Bill says that:
One can only hope that wiser teachers might now explain how freedom has to be fought for
Absolutely correct. A pro-liberty intellectual revolution is needed.


More important, it will require a legal system, an open and transparent civic culture and an opening up of economic ownership.
At this point I expected Bill to condemn our Parliament's attack on property rights under the new "right to roam" law that will bankrupt much of the rural economy. Poor old Scotland.

Only then did I realise that Bill had been writing about Iraq.

Thursday 10 April 2003

A National Socialist government?

The Scottish Nationalists have been courting the business community for years. Recently they have been making some headway. Several leading businesspeople have said that the SNP's policies would be good for the economy. Have the Nationalists now blown it?
A COALITION at Holyrood between the Scottish National Party and the Scottish Socialist Party was publicly raised yesterday by senior figures in both parties.
This possibility has not been raised officially by the SNP but by Sandra White who just happens to be their top candidate in Glasgow:
Asked if she agreed that could be an SNP-SSP alliance, Ms White said: "Everything's possible. I don't rule it out at all." Asked what John Swinney, her party's leader, thought of the idea, she said: "I will speak to him later."
If John Swinney has any sense he will denounce this suggestion immediately.

The Tories need to do more than say that an SNP/SSP alliance would be "no surprise". It would be an utter disaster for the country and especially for a business community that used to be a source of natural support for the Conservatives.

The state against the people

Surely this is wrong. Robbie the Pict is standing for the Scottish Parliament. He wants to run as the "Scotland and Shetland’s Self-Determination Rights" candidate. But the authorities won't let him:
However, Arthur McCourt, the regional returning officer, on advice from the Electoral Commission, ruled that individuals had to describe themselves as "independent", or leave the box blank.

Robbie objected to having to use a "state term" (you got that right, Robbie), and took the issue to the Court of Session in Edinburgh, asking for an interim interdict to prevent Mr McCourt from declaring invalid his nomination paper

What the Electoral Commission should be doing is challenging the Liberal Democrats for wrongful use of the word "liberal".

Wednesday 9 April 2003

What kind of auditor is this?

There is more in today's Scotsman on the Scottish Parliament construction scandal. Margo MacDonald, who has campaigned for better management of the whole sorry project, said:
"The report reveals the project was fundamentally flawed from the very start and it has grave implications for the whole of our public life and executive spending."
Indeed so.

The Auditor General's spokesman said that his report didn't go into the detail of the procurement process because "in our judgment it was not one we felt adversely affected the overall management of the project". In the private sector, auditors don't just look at whether projects have been managed well and the figures recorded properly, but also examine contracts with suppliers and customers to make sure that the best arrangements have been made from the point of view of the shareholders. It is hardly surprising that public expenditure is out of control nor that taxation is crippling industry if our elected representatives are not given the information that they need to do their job.

Tuesday 8 April 2003

The great scandal of Edinburgh

The endless budget overruns during the construction of the new Scottish Parliament building have caused outrage. Now this report makes some shocking claims:
The leaked report - kept under wraps for more than two years - claims Bovis Lend Lease, the main contractor for the project, was appointed because a key figure in the Scottish Office worked with the firm before.

It says the "comfort factor" of this previous relationship overrode the attempt to get the best candidate for the job. The report, by international cost consultants Gardiner & Theobald, also claims there was a substantial overpayment of fees to the architects in the early stages of the project.

Independent Nationalist Margo MacDonald today demanded a full inquiry into the project after she was leaked a copy of the report, which she had been refused through official channels.
What the hell is going on here? Margo MacDonald was elected by the people to represent us and has performed a great service by vigorously monitoring the whole construction project. Why should the Auditor General refuse to provide information to an MSP? I can well imagine the outcry if an auditor in the private sector refused to provide information requested by a director of a client company.

The Nationalists made a great mistake in edging Ms MacDonald out of a winning position in their candidates' list. This latest exposure may well see her back into parliament as an independent. I was in a taxi in Edinburgh a few weeks ago and the driver said that Margo MacDonald had been the previous passenger. Was he going to vote for her? Absolutely. And so were many of his colleagues.

Texas and Scotland

Over on The Brazos de Dios Cantina, Sharon Ferguson publishes correspondence she has received from Scottish political activist Colin Beveridge.

Monday 7 April 2003

From Braveheart to Bullring?

Birmingham is a much-maligned city that has lots of attractions. I have always enjoyed my visits to what was one of the cradles of the industrial revolution. I was, though, somewhat surprised to see an advertisement in the Scotsman today from British European offering flights from Edinburgh to Birmingham under the heading Get away from it all! Back to the copywriters' handbook guys.

Iraq - What next?

George Kerevan's Scotsman article today has some interesting suggestions:
Iraq’s biggest problem - as well as its biggest asset - is its youthful population. Half this country of 24 million is aged 14 or under. Which means they know nothing other than Saddam’s propaganda. In the next decade, this cohort will come of age. Unless they have something productive to do, they will become a force open to nationalist and Islamic fundamentalist rhetoric.

The crucial thing is to find a way of absorbing them into the economy. Instantly, this means a massive educational programme, especially to ensure that all young Iraqi women can read (current female literacy is about 45 per cent). Giving the young women a stake in the economy will be a good way of cooling male hotheads.

Fortunately, there are two labour-intensive industries that Iraq can develop to soak up some of this restless youth: agriculture and tourism.

I think that a peaceful Middle East would enjoy a tourist bonanza. Sadly, it's probably too late for one of the great investment opportunities of recent times: property in downtown Baghdad.

Sunday 6 April 2003

Labour has been found out

The Financial Mail on Sunday publishes a survey of business attitudes to the government.

The survey asked:
Does this government understand enough about what business needs to thrive?

The answers:
No, not al all: 61.2%
No, not enough: 33%
Don't know: 3.9%
Yes: 1.9%

Ah, but these are the responses of the greedy bosses, aren't they? What about ordinary people?
The main section of the Mail has its own survey:

Will extra money raised by the National Insurance rise improve the NHS or be wasted?
Improve NHS: 22%
Be wasted: 72%

Would you support extra tax rises to improve schools and hospitals?
Support: 35%
Oppose: 62%

Has Labour become the party of tax and spend?
Yes: 60%
No: 21%

Is Labour squeezing the middle class?
Yes: 52%
No: 26%

This looks like a party that should be on the run. A half-competent low-tax opposition would be sweeping all before it. There's no sign of this yet but the opportunity is there for the taking

The power of the market

British and American troops in Iraq have been exchanging supplies as and when needed. I read yesterday that the soldiers of the Black Watch have been doing deals with nearby US personnel. The going rate is one bottle of whisky for one army tent. I leave it to you to guess which side provides which items.

Saturday 5 April 2003

Blogger fixed!

After searching the web I came across a suggestion that I change 3 characters of code. Why had they gone wrong? I don't have a clue. Bring back paper and pencil.

It's driving me mad!

The Blogger system has malfunctioned! Postings are on my computer in draft mode but won't publish. This kind of thing has occurred before and should resolve itself ASAP.

More on pensions

The Scotsman's Business Editor, Bill Jameison, writes that pension returns have plunged by 49% over the last six years. This is the result of falling fund values coupled with reduced annuity rates.

In a separate article, David Simpson (formerly economic advisor to Standard Life), tells us that:

ALL THREE pillars of the British pensions system are crumbling. The basic state pension is unsustainable in its present form. Defined benefit occupational pensions schemes are fast disappearing, and with them the retirement hopes of millions of workers.

A further three million low income earners are not saving enough for their retirement. And uncertainty about pensions choices is widespread.

Mr Simpson makes several interesting suggestions that could improve the situation but doesn't mention the greatest pension scandal of them all, namely the onward march of pension benefits for government workers. Their pensions don't seem to be under any threat. State employees (especially in Scotland) generally have better working conditions, more job security, longer holidays and secure pensions that are paid for by the rest of us. This should be one of the main issues in the Scottish election. So far, I haven't heard a word.

Labour's tax plans hit pensioners

Here is a letter objecting to Labour's proposals to raise council taxes:
Any form of taxation based on the value of property is inherently unfair as it does not truly reflect the wealth of those living in the property. Just because the value of property has increased over the last decade does not mean that my income has in-creased to the same extent.
It is understandable that Dr Peacock is angry. As he points out, local services have got worse as taxes have increased. What we need is to move most or all of these local government "services" into the private sector where customers not taxpayers would pay for them.

H H Rae is also upset by the Labour plan

The Scottish election

The BBC website has a useful guide to the 1st May election.

Friday 4 April 2003

Is Scotland's economy a basket case?

Well, perhaps it isn't. A fascinating article in the Sunday Herald suggests not:
Between 1963 and 2001, the Scottish economy grew by 2.1% a year on average (UK 2.4%). Between 1983 and 2001, it grew by 2.2% (UK 2.6%).
That is much closer than had previously been thought.

And what about oil?

Furthermore, each of these comparative UK figures includes the output of oil and gas from the UK continental shelf. The Scottish figures do not. Take oil out altogether and between 1963 and 2001 the Scottish economy grew by 2.1% a year, while the UK managed 2.2% on average.
When the figures are adjusted for population movements we get an even better result:
When that further adjustment is made, he calculates, average annual Scottish growth actually outstrips the UK in the 1963-2001 and 1973-2001 timeframes, by 2.1% to 2% and by 1.7% to 1.6%, respectively. Only in the 1981-2001 period does the UK come out top, but only by 2.4% to 2.3%
I wonder how well we would do if our politicians actually supported pro-growth policies.

Thursday 3 April 2003

Where your money goes

Thanks to the Liberty Club of St Andrews for drawing my attention to this excellent new site. Wonderful sound effects!

Fiddler on the roof

The City of Edinburgh Council wants to make some residents of the New Town pay for repairs to a pavement on the grounds that it forms part of the roof of their basement flats:
The council decided that because the pathway goes over small yards or vaults in front of the residents’ flats, then the pavement was effectively part of their roofs.
In a sane world streets would be owned privately and ownership responsibilities laid down clearly. In the meantime I suggest that the residents invoice the Council for backdated rent for all pedestrians estimated to have walked over the "roofs" without invitation.

The return of Old Labour

Jack McConnell wants to raise council taxes:
LABOUR is planning to go ahead with a shake-up of council tax property bands that would almost certainly bring bigger bills for people living in more expensive houses.
This would be achieved by extending the top-band threshold from its current £212,000 level:
In the Scottish cities, there is now a larger number of properties worth well in excess of that figure and it is likely to be argued that there should be extra bandings at the top end.

House prices in the capital have more than doubled since 1991, which means the £212,000 threshold for the top band is the equivalent of around £465,000 today.

One reason for increased property prices is the historically low level of interest rates that have at the moment. These may well rise shortly as a result of Gordon Brown's ever increasing budget deficit which will probably necessitate more government borrowing. If house prices fall back, as many expect, would council tax valuations be adjusted downward? I don't think so. They just want your money.

Wednesday 2 April 2003

Teachers' salaries

An "independent" review has said that senior teachers, including headteachers, are overpaid. The education establishment is upset:
The SSTA said the assessment showed 62% of secondary headteachers and 91% of their deputies were over-paid. About 84% of assistant heads and 72% of principal teachers also will be told their salaries should be cut.
The review has been produced by PricewaterhouseCoopers. The problem of course is that a survey by management consultants can never tell us what the correct salary levels are for teachers or anyone else. Only the free market can determine what people should be paid. Let's privatise education thus providing pupils with the best possible education and teachers with appropriate salaries.

Another Tory defection to the SPA

This time it's Lyndsay McIntosh, formerly an MSP for Central Scotland. The Conservatives now have only a few days to find new candidates in Central Fife and in Kilmarnock and Loudon.

Tuesday 1 April 2003

Laissez-nous faire!

Now Ireland's health minister is proposing to ban smoking in pubs and restaurants. Edinburgh Tory councillor Brian Meek is impressed:
Ask yourself this: which is the most harmful activity in Scotland: binge drinking, hunting with hounds, or smoking? Remind me again: which was banned?
Well Brian, the most harmful activity in Scotland is not drinking, hunting or smoking but politicians who think that they have the right to tell the rest of us how to conduct our lives.

Mr Meek thinks that opposition to this kind of law is driven by smokers and pub owners:

Leading the opposition is the Tipperary South member of parliament, Noel Davern. "I have spoken to the minister three times," he informed us. "He is fanatically anti-smoking. The fact that I am a smoker myself has nothing to do with it." Of course not.

It is also a coincidence that Senator Eddie Bohan, also opposed, has an interest in a number of pubs in the Dublin area.

I am not a smoker nor do I own a pub or restaurant and I don't enjoy smoke when I go to such establishments. Nevertheless, it's not the government's business. Let the property owners decide and go broke if they get it wrong.

Tory defection

Outgoing Tory MSP Keith Harding has defected to the Scottish People's Alliance:
Mr Harding will stand for the SPA on the Mid Scotland and Fife regional list and in the Stirling constituency, where he will go head to head with his former colleague, Brian Monteith, who is standing for the Tories in the city.
Freedom and Whisky contacted Brian Monteith who said:
It is deeply disappointing that Keith has chosen to leave the Party and stand against me, especially after all the personal support I have given him over the last four years. The SPA is not even on the radar screen, and yet, at the risk of losing many personal friends, he has gambled that this fledgling party will keep him in Parliament. I think it is a serious error of judgement and I only hope on a personal note that he is not badly scarred by the political rough and tumble that tends to follow political defections.
Although the SPA has called for reductions in taxation they support the introduction of identity cards. They also place great emphasis on democratic "rights" rather than the rights of individuals against the state. The state is not our friend and the state needs to be limited.