Thursday 31 July 2003

Born 1912 - Still Going Strong

Happy birthday to Milton Friedman

My wife and I met thirteen years ago at a conference dinner in San Francisco - Milton Friedman was the guest speaker.

Oh doctor, I'm in trouble!

Help is at hand for those of you traumatised by the dreaded words "self assembly":
Miles Richardson has devised a formula to indicate how frustrating an item will be to assemble and wants manufacturers to use it to amend instructions, offering customers an idea of flat-pack traumas to come.

His PhD paper, Identifying the task variables that influence object assembly complexity, is published later this year.

It's good to see that our universities are producing useful research. My local Ikea hands out the business cards of a guy who will come to your house and assemble furniture for a fee of £25. I wonder where he went to college.

A coalition for independence?

Some campaigners for Scottish independence are planning the creation of a national movement to act beyond the confines of the existing political parties:
Taking as their model the Scottish constitutional convention which led to home rule, the organisers - mainly SNP activists - believe a cross-party coalition could move Scotland on from devolution to independence. Support for an independence coalition has found broad agreement inside the divided SNP, now preparing for a leadership contest amid accusations that it has lost its way
This may seem to make sense for nationalist activists. There is not too much ideological difference between the left wing of the SNP and the Scottish Socialist Party, whose leader Tommy Sheridan is to address the group's first meeting - to be held during the SNP's conference. The Greens and independence-minded Labour supporters are expected to join in. The downside for the SNP is that most of their voting strength is to be found in rural and small-town Scotland - traditionally anti-socialist areas that used to be held by the Conservatives.

Scotland's biggest problem is its depressed economy:

The executive said gross domestic product north of the border fell by a seasonally-adjusted 0.3% in the first quarter. Comparing the year to March with the preceding 12 months, there was no growth at all in Scotland, but expansion of 1.7% in the UK.
The Scottish economic numbers are perhaps not quite so poor on a per-capita basis, given our static or declining population compared to the population growth in England. Nevertheless, the economy needs improving. If there were a case for Scottish independence it would be to create a low-tax and radically pro-business economy. Such a Scotland could retain our most ambitious youngsters, so many of who now emigrate. Socialism is a dead end. Instead of wasting their time with the Scottish Socialists, the SNP should become "radicals for a capitalist Scotland" - if necessary in league with the Conservative party.

Now that would be something to stir up their conference.

Wednesday 30 July 2003

Musical note

The bureaucrats of middle-England have shown some initiative:
BEETHOVEN’S Ninth Symphony is to be played continuously in a multi-storey car park in an attempt to drive away rough sleepers.

The composer’s work - which includes the well-known melody Ode To Joy - will run on a loop 24 hours a day at the John Street car park in Stoke-on-Trent during a two-month trial.

I can't help wondering about the choice of music. There's nothing wrong with Beethoven, but I note that Ode to Joy is the anthem of the European Union. Perhaps the EUSR has given the good folk of Stoke a financial incentive to broadcast wall-to-wall Euro-music. If so, we should reciprocate. We must insist that the car parks of Brussels be equipped to play Land of Hope and Glory or Rule Britannia. Non-stop.
The Bloggish Enlightenment

Congratulations to Mike Campbell for coming up with this excellent term.

Tuesday 29 July 2003

You couldn't make this up....

After going ten times over budget you would have thought that the seats in the new Scottish parliament building would be the right size.

Not so:

The sit-in bay windows on the MSPs’ office block at the new parliament complex were designed to allow politicians a quiet place for contemplation amid the whirlwind of debates and controversy.

However, not all the seats will be wide enough to accommodate the posteriors of the plumpest of Scotland’s 129 elected representatives.

So we have a sizeist parliament building. This is not acceptable in the twenty-first century. Fortunately one of the building's long-term critics has a solution:
The former SNP MSP Margo MacDonald is one of the Scottish parliament’s most generously sized members.

MacDonald, now an independent list MSP for the Lothians, said: "I know we are supposed to be trying to get a good cross-section of people into the Scottish parliament, but at this rate the next parliament will need to have a percentage of people with restricted growth, because they’re the only folk who could squeeze themselves in.

Yes indeed. Clearly, there needs to be a quota in the parliament for "people with restricted growth". And perhaps a modicum of economic understanding could be achieved by instituting a quota of business people.

But(t) no, that wouldn't do: they'd be fat cats.

Monday 28 July 2003

Honour your agreements - says the Sheriff

The business section of the Glasgow Herald has an interesting story today. Unfortunately there is no direct link.

Ossory Property Investments have won a legal case at Glasgow Sheriff Court against the retailer RS McColl who are tenants in an Ossory-owned shopping complex in the Easterhouse area of the city. Following their acquisition of a similar company operating in the centre, McColl decided to close down their existing shop. Although McColl continued to pay rent on their original shop, they were taken to court because they had signed a lease in which they had agreed to continue to trade in the original outlet, in their own name, and for the full lease term and not merely pay the rent. Ossory's lawyer said: "It simply wasn't enough for McColl's to continue to pay the rent on an empty unit. McColl's is a nationally recognised covenant and their continuing presence was important to the centre, which is why a keep-trading clause was insisted upon in the first instance." The Herald states that: "Under English law, such clauses are all but unenforceable" - damages being the usual remedy. The Glasgow Sheriff ruled differently under Scots law.

Bizarrely, the Herald states that these clauses are ones "which - on the face of it - co-exist uneasily with a supposedly free market." That is nonsense. Free markets can only exist if people keep their agreements and some form of social sanction is necessary to enforce contracts. If you don't like the clause, don't sign the lease. Unlike the Herald, the Sheriff knows that freedom doesn't mean that you can break your word whenever you feel like it.

Today's letters

I noticed a couple of interesting letters in The Scotsman today. First, there's one from Falkirk objectivist, Bruce Crichton, who continues to correct the errors of John Rogerson, an advocate of environmentalism:
Government subsidies to business, far from being a free gift to the economy, are a massive expropriation of wealth which is redistributed from firms which make profits to those who make losses. These subsidies save jobs only at the expense of destroying jobs elsewhere in the economy. The same is true of protective tariffs which damage imports and exports.
Then, there is this one from David Stevenson. Confusingly, he refers to a previous letter from another David Stevenson, but I believe that today's writer is the David Stevenson who is well known as an SNP activist and former candidate for Brussels and Westminster.

Stevenson writes:

There may well be good reasons to wish for Scotland to be independent outwith the EU rather than "independent in Europe". I should be glad to see a well-informed debate, followed by a multi-option referendum, to test public opinion on this.

The fisheries debacle has almost persuaded me to favour the "outwith" option, although I believe most of the fault over fisheries lies with the British establishment, and its Scottish allies, rather than with the EU.

This is the second time in a few weeks that I have noticed that members of the Nationalist party are moving towards a more sceptical position vis-a-vis the EU. Good.

Sunday 27 July 2003

Joined up government

Thanks to Dave Fordwych for alerting me to this one

The Sunday Herald has a wonderful story today:

Transport police were called out last Friday to confront a small but angry band of residents as they marched down a path to the Perth-to-Dundee railway line and a level crossing which has been padlocked and nailed shut.

This is the apparently innocuous focus of a chain of events that has polarised the local community, angered the council, incensed the Ramblers’ Association, raised the spectre of corporate man slaughter and left a question mark hanging over an unforeseen consequence of the Land Reform Bill.

Directors of Network Rail are understandably concerned about the possibility of facing charges of corporate manslaughter in the event of someone being killed or injured while wandering on the railway. Meanwhile, the Scottish government has legislated in favour of a right to trespass roam, including, presumably, across railway tracks.

The railway infrastructure has been taken out of the hands of shareholders and into the safekeeping of selfless (sic) public servants. Surely this kind of mix-up shouldn't occur. Don't tell me that there's something wrong with socialism! In the meantime the local council is forcing open the gates over the tracks and Network Rail is locking them up again.

The folk at Network Rail are - wisely - looking out for number one:

“If people are serious about crossing live railways, the safest way is by underpass or bridge and somebody has to fund that – and it’s not going to be the railway because it’s not our responsibility. The responsibility must either rest with councils or central government.”

As Dave Fordwych says:

In my opinion, both pieces of legislation -right to roam and corporate manslaughter -are wrong headed and superfluous and it will be interesting to see which way this one pans out.
I think that a solution may be found if the Secretary of State for Transport, Alistair Darling, has a quiet word with the Secretary of State for Scotland who is, er, Alistair Darling.

Funnily enough, the only time I have ever seen Mr Darling, my own MP, was on an aeroplane flying from London to Edinburgh and, yes, he was talking to himself.

An ungentlemanly challenge

I hold no special brief for John Swinney, leader of the SNP, but for a leadership challenge to be launched on the day before Swinney's wedding is a nasty trick. It appears that Bill Wilson is a stalking horse for other potential leaders but sometimes the one who wields the knife does inherit the throne.

Scotland on Sunday comments:

Dr Wilson has signalled that he will campaign for a more left wing leadership for the SNP. In doing this he speaks for many party activists who have been struck by the success of Tommy Sheridan’s Scottish Socialist Party in making inroads into urban Scotland. The future, they argue, lies in a turn to the left which would allow the SNP to win votes from the SSP and the Labour Party. Though superficially attractive this would actually be a disaster for the Nationalists. Elections are won and lost in the centre ground. Veering to the left would expose the SNP on its right flank. And the Tories showed in May this year that they are able to take seats from the SNP. Any espousal of tartan socialism would be seized on with pleasure by the resurgent Scottish Conservatives.
And is Bill Wilson a leftwinger? His CV would indicate that he could be:

Born: Glasgow

Age: 39

Education: Shawlands Academy, Glasgow. Glasgow University (BSc Zoology). Aberdeen University (MSc Ecology). Queens University Belfast (PhD in the biology, ecology and regulation of wood mice). Glasgow University (Masters in IT)

Job: Computer programmer for a major financial institution in Edinburgh

Party career: Joined SNP in 1989 at age of 25, after campaigning with Labour party. Convener of SNP Glasgow Association. Contested Glasgow Mayhill in 1999 and 2003

Family: Married. First wedding anniversary falls on date of leadership ballot

Out and about: Hill-walking in the Andes, the Himalayas, Kenya, Mexico and all over Scotland

Reads: Philosophy, historical novels

Music: Classics, especially Mozart and Beethoven. Also classic jazz and folk

This guy gets a degree in zoology, another in ecology and then one in "regulation of wood mice", all presumably at the taxpayers' expense. As if that's not enough, he gets yet another degree, this one in IT. Presumably that's the one that enabled him to gain employment as a "computer programmer for a major financial institution in Edinburgh". Is it not amusing that this paragon of right-on environmentalism ends up working for the capitalist running dogs of the Edinburgh financial community? I wonder how Dr Wilson will explain that lapse to the massed ranks of the social working class whose support he no doubt needs to gain the leadership of the SNP.

Friday 25 July 2003

In praise of second home owners

I note that Scottish local authorities want to abolish the 50% discount on council taxes that is currently enjoyed by owners of second homes. Unsurprisingly, the Herald weighs in on the side of the class war:
It looks set to pit the executive against the owners of 60,000 properties in Scotland - including Sir Paul McCartney, JK Rowling and Mohamed al Fayed - which are exempt from the full fee.
I wasn't surprised to read that there is a lack of understanding of the potential benefits of tax competition between different authorities:
One of the councils, Argyll and Bute, has called on the executive to make the removal of the discount mandatory in legislation, and "applied consistently by every Scottish local authority".
They want their increased tax take but can't stand the idea of a rival authority luring away their victims.

I myself benefited from the 50% discount for some years. My current home in Edinburgh was purchased in 1995 and was occupied about 2 days a month until we moved here permanently early last year. I have no doubt that my usage of the City Council's services was well under 50% during those years and having the property here meant that a very large proportion of my holiday expenditure benefited the Edinburgh economy and would otherwise have been spent elsewhere.

Scotland is one of the few places in Europe that has a falling population. Many rural areas depend on second home owners, many of whom eventually move here permanently. If councils are worried about locals being unable to afford high house prices perhaps an attack on our outmoded planning laws would be in order. Keep the discount or, better still, privatise local government.

Thursday 24 July 2003


While googling for an Adam Smith reference for the previous item, I came across this comment from the Scottish Conservative leader:
Commenting on reports that Historic Scotland has turned down an offer of £10,000 by Edinburgh-born businessman Bob Lamond to pay for information signs leading to Adam Smith's grave in the Canongate Kirkyard, Scottish Conservative Leader David McLetchie MSP said:

"I am utterly astonished that Historic Scotland has turned down this most generous offer. Adam Smith is one of Scotland's most distinguished men. The Wealth of Nations provides the foundation of the free-enterprise system which has conferred untold benefits to mankind, down the centuries and across the world.

"Adam Smith's grave currently languishes in obscurity in the Canongate Kirkyard. At a time when Scotland should be encouraging interest in our history both at home and abroad, it is absurd that this generous, well-intentioned and eminently sensible proposal has been rejected.

"I will be writing to the Tourism, Culture and Sport Minister Frank McAveety and to Historic Scotland, urging them to reverse this bizarre decision."

McLetchie is absolutely justified in his complaint, although I can't say that I am "utterly astonished" about this decision.

So much for Scotland's commitment to enterprise. If the Canongate Kirkyard contained the grave of Karl Marx instead of that of Adam Smith you can bet that Historic Scotland would have already spent thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money on signage.

Mercantilism lives

Poor old Adam Smith must be spinning in his grave. The Edinburgh Evening News tells us that:
LICENSED traders are demanding a ban on new pubs and clubs in the Capital in a bid to tackle binge drinking.
The Scottish Licensed Trade Association believes a complete moratorium is the best long-term solution to tackling an issue city leaders admit is blighting the Capital. It claims Edinburgh is one of the most "over-provided cities in Europe" for licensed premises.
"Over provided!"

Of course Edinburgh has a disproportionately large number of pubs. It's a city of under 500,000 people that has three universities, is the second most important tourist destination in Britain and, uniquely in this country, has a very sizeable proportion of its prosperous middle class professionals living in the centre of the city. Many of those students, tourists and residents like Edinburgh precisely because it is well endowed with many superb Victorian and Edwardian pubs.

Have a look at this:

SLTA spokesman Paul Waterson said: "There’s no doubt at all that the best long-term solution to the binge-drinking culture is to bring a complete halt to the issuing of any new licences.
I detect a group that wants to use state power to keep out rivals. By all means let the police deal with any rowdiness outside pubs but don't let businesses use politicians to destroy potential competitors.

His and Hers

According to this, the First Couple are wearing colour co-ordinated outfits:
Add it altogether and you have clear evidence that the Blairs are Britain's colour co-ordinated couple. However, if, as Shakespeare was apt to remark, apparel oft proclaims the man (or, as in this case, the couple) then there is method behind their madness.

Anne Macfarlane, Glasgow-based image consultant for Colour Me Beautiful, said yesterday: "I am absolutely certain that this is not a coincidence. They will receive a great deal of advice on what colours they should wear. I would think that they want to photograph well at the moment.

I can see that image awareness can be important for politicians as Brian Micklethwait explains here. In the case of George Bush I think that most of us would accept that "what you see is what you get", whether or not you agree with his politics. That is not the case with Tony Blair. Who on earth trusts this prancing popinjay? It does Bush no harm for it to be known that photographs of him are carefully planned, but news of a colour co-ordinated Blair family will bring nothing but derision.


Wednesday 23 July 2003

A tale of two cultures

Last night I started to read Adventure Capital, the story of a round-the-world journey made by the American investor, Jim Rogers.

Arriving in China, Jim writes:

Driving through China, we would see people constantly working the fields, and they would be working from dawn to dusk, literally. Indeed, they worked beyond dusk. We saw road builders labouring under floodlights, and there were always as many women working as men. We never saw anybody sitting around chitchatting. The Chinese do not take siestas. You will see some old men - really old men- sitting quietly drinking tea, with their caged pet birds keeping them company, but other than that you will not see people lounging around, looking out windows.
I imagine that some of you may be thinking that the Chinese work such long hours because they need every penny to survive. But what about this:
I have pointed out how the Chinese work from dawn to dusk. But not only do they work hard, they also save and invest over 30 percent of their income. We in America save about 1 percent of our income. It is because the Chinese work so hard and save so much of what they earn that their economy is growing faster than ours.
Rogers also notes that savings in China are not taxed unlike in the US or indeed the UK.

Let's turn now to Scotland, renowned as the land of the Presbyterian work ethic. Surely here we will see some similarity to China. Look at today's Daily Record:

OAPS flooded helplines yesterday as our campaign to get them to claim millions of pounds in state benefits kicked off in style.

The Record yesterday revealed how almost 60,000 Scots pensioners are missing out on £70million a year in unclaimed payouts.

Now OAP helplines and the Department of Work and Pensions have been inundated with calls from people wanting to claim cash.

And Pensions Minister Malcolm Wicks has thrown his weight behind the campaign, urging elderly people to apply for the money.

Mr Wicks says that the pensioners are entitled to the money. Well, maybe some of them are, but what about the millions of other welfare beneficiaries, including all state employees? What about the huge administrative slice taken out of the wages of private sector employees who are forced to contribute to state "welfare" schemes? The Labour regime and its press allies in the Daily Record focus on redistribution and spending, not production and investment. The Chinese have recognised that western-style welfare states do not lead to prosperity: that's why they work hard and save 30 percent of their incomes. I can't quite see a Chinese newspaper running a major campaign to persuade people to take up welfare "rights". It's more likely that they would report on the rather interesting fact that half of the world's construction cranes are operating in their country. Sometimes it seems as though half of the world's welfare advocates live in this country.

Monday 21 July 2003

Sir Alan Printsalot

I like this image from Daily Reckoning

Who needs job experience?

I think that George Robertson, outgoing secretary-general of NATO, is a decent man, despite being a former Labour MP and minister. If Robertson had still been Defence Secretary I don’t imagine that he would have turned up yesterday at the British Grand Prix as did Geoff (Buff) Hoon who claimed that he was there “investigating plans to adapt motor racing’s quick-fuelling systems for use with military helicopters.” (Daily Mail). Robertson would have known to keep his head down in the aftermath of the death of Dr David Kelly.

Nevertheless, I can’t agree with the letter in today’s Glasgow Herald from a Mr Neil Robertson (presumably no relation) who writes:

Your business correspondent Mark Smith is quite wrong to suggest that the outgoing secretary-general of Nato, Lord George Robertson - who has just been appointed to the board of Weir Group plc, "Scotland's largest engineering company" - "has no real experience of business" (July 19). As a member of the first board of the Scottish Development Agency from 1975 to 1978 - when he was still Scottish organiser of the General, Municipal and Boilermakers Union - George Robertson won his spurs in industrial development by serving alongside Sir William Gray, Professor Kenneth Alexander, Councillor Charles Gray, Dr George Weir, Brigadier Muir, David Ogilvie, Alan Devereux, Jimmy Jack of STUC, SDA chief executive Lewis Robertson, and SDA board secretary Muir Russell (seconded from the Scottish Office), in laying down ground-rules for "the Scottish development acorn", SDA.
I'm sorry, but being a trade union representative on a government quango is not the same as having "business experience". Real businessmen lie awake at night wondering how they can meet the next payroll while hoping that the next bunch of government regulations doesn't bankrupt them. It's a pity that so few people in Scotland understand that reality.

Identity politics

Many on the left think that Britain has become, or is becoming, the "51st state" of the USA. Although this piece in the Guardian doesn't quite go that far, it gets close:
Britain has by now lost its sovereignty to the United States and has become a client state. As Tony Blair flies in to Washington today to be patted on the head by the US Congress, this is the sad truth behind his visit.
What I want to focus on is not whether we should be part of the US but why there is an almost universal assumption that we would enter the union as one state.

I know the US fairly well. My wife is an American. I have travelled to the US on about a dozen occasions. As far as I can recall, I have visited 33 of the 50 states - far more than most Americans. I know, therefore, that there are many regional differences in the country and that these are far greater than most Britons understand. Nevertheless, I don't think that many people in the US are in any doubt that they are American nationals. The same does not apply in the United Kingdom.

South of the border, the terms "England" and "Britain" continue to be used interchangeably. I realise that there has been a growing awareness of a separate English identity over the past decade or so, initially on the sports field, and, increasingly, since Scottish and Welsh devolution. Nevertheless, I would contend that most English people, most of the time, think that they are part of a national group that has its own state and government, one that is located in Westminster. Scots do not think the same way.

The majority here wish to remain citizens of the UK. They have though, and are very aware of having, two quite distinct identities: Scottish and British. Most Scots are proud of both. They see the United Kingdom as a multi-national state. Confusingly, perhaps, America is a multi-state nation!

If we were to become part of the US - and I think it distinctly unlikely - it would need to be as four separate states. Does anyone seriously think that North and South Dakota are more "different" than Scotland and England?

Conjecture about our becoming the "51st state" may seem somewhat removed from reality. The use of this terminology, though, shows just how out-of-touch many English based commentators are about the actual political entity that they already inhabit. They are also the best recruiting agents for the various nationalist parties that wish to break up the United Kingdom.

Sunday 20 July 2003

The "Great Charlatan" visits Washington

Gerald Warner is on top form in Scotland on Sunday today:
"Say, Hank, who is this guy"

"Says here he’s Tony B Liar, President of the United Kingdom."

"Jeez, Hank! ’Zat the Limey asshole that put the 45-minutes-tuh-Armageddon crap into Dubya’s State of the Union speech?"

"Reckon so, Bud."

"Then why in tarnation we standin’ up an’ hollerin’ fer him, like Julia Roberts was strippin’ off, or sump’n? Seems to me we soughta be givin’ him the hood an’ handcuffs treatment, down Guantanamo way."

"Hell, Bud, that’s politics. All Ah know is, every time Don Rumsfeld takes out his handkerchief, it’s a signal we gotta jump up an’ make like this guy’s the messiah."

"Say, Hank, did ya clock the wife - Sheree or some dumb Hicksville name like that? Ah’d sooner go home tuh Janet Reno."

"Yeah, an’ what about the gorrilla that’s his bodyguard, or sump’n - guy called Campbell, says he can’t function without him? That’s the kinda face we got the good taste in this country tuh hide under a Klansman’s hood."

"Here we go again - up ya get, Hank, an’ look like you’re ovatin’ from the heart. Ah’m gonna try whistlin’ through ma fingers this time - git a gold star from the party bosses."

And so it goes on.

Read the whole thing.

Friday 18 July 2003

In support of educational freedom

These letters in today's Scotsman are a welcome rejoinder to the critics of home schooling whom I mentioned on Wednesday.

Your taxes at work

Thanks to Andrew Duffin for this one:
When judges from the Beautiful Scotland in Bloom competition stroll among the hanging baskets, flower beds and mirror-flat lawns of Coldstream next week, they will have little idea that they have stepped into the middle of a blazing row.

Residents of Coldstream are furious that their chances of winning are hindered because they miss out on council-subsidised hanging baskets

As Andrew says:

THIS is what we pay 40% income tax for? (Sorry, 51% including National "Insurance")

Thursday 17 July 2003

Tragedy in Shetland

The island of Whalsay boasts more millionaires per head of the population than any other place in Britain
But those heady days are about to disappear forever. Half the white fish fleet on which the island’s prosperity depends are set to be scrapped under the Scottish Executive’s latest vessel decommissioning scheme.

Shetland, and Whalsay in particular, will suffer more than any other fishing community in Scotland under the scheme, which will result in a total of 69 white fish boats being scrapped in a bid to save the North Sea’s fragile cod stocks.

Let us understand what is going on here. The decommissioning scheme is not being introduced to conserve fish stocks. It's being introduced because the British government has utterly failed to protect the property rights of our fishermen who have earned those rights by "homesteading" North Sea waters since time immemorial. Instead, it has meekly handed over those rights to the European Union. That "Union" in turn uses our money to subsidise the construction of foreign vessels that will be free to operate in traditional British waters. Shameful.

What would you subsidise?

Over on the Transport Blog, Brian Micklethwait writes:
I know I'm not supposed to, but I love new railway lines, no matter how much money is wasted on them. Ain't nothing like a train.
But why is Brian "not supposed to" like trains? Perhaps it's the "wasting" of money, lots of which is extracted from the taxpayer. Many libertarians and conservatives dislike railways precisely because of the almost universal state involvement. In a fully libertarian society, though, it may well turn out that railways would be more successful and roads less so. We can't tell in advance. For the sake of argument let's assume that railways need state subsidies.

I recall reading somewhere that the great Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises favoured privatising virtually everything but made a rare exception for the Vienna Opera House. Mises was an opera fan. If the great Mises can be granted his subsidised opera house perhaps we can allow Brian to enjoy new railways, no matter how they are financed.

Let us assume that we have achieved a society in which the only function of government is the protection of citizens from aggressors. Which single exception would you choose to be subsidised?

Wednesday 16 July 2003

Bring back real education

According to Arthur Herman Scotland was Europe's first modern literate society. Male literacy was 75% by 1750 at a time when it had reached 53% in England. By the time he was sixteen, Robert Burns, the son of a poor farmer, had studied "Shakespeare, Alexander Pope, Addison's Spectator essays, Jethro Tull on agriculture, Robert Boyle on chemistry, John Locke, and enlightenment writers in the original French." So what of the present day? Things aren't quite right:
A DEVASTATING critique of adult literacy and numeracy in the Scottish workforce emerged at Westminster yesterday as the government and trades unions stood accused of neglecting the low-skilled, low wage earners in Labour heartlands throughout the UK.

The finger of blame was also pointed at Scottish education, which was said to have "let down a whole generation"

I suppose we should be glad that some Labour politicians realise that the state education system isn't working. I wasn't too surprised, though, to read that other statists are fearful of the alternatives:
MINISTERS have been accused of putting children at risk of abuse and poor teaching by scaling down checks on children who are not enrolled for school.

The Scottish Parent Teacher Council (SPTC) claims that the Scottish Executive has caved in to pressure from the vocal lobby of parents who teach their children at home.

And what's wrong with homeschooling?
Mrs Coner (of the SPTC) accused the home education groups of taking a narrow view. "This is a vocal lobby which is very much into independence and being in control. But we have to provide measures for children in a wide range of situations. I think the Executive has bowed to pressure from them"

Mrs Coner said that the SPTC, believes it is overall not in the best interests of children for them to be educated at home. She said however that parents have the right to do this and many "do a fantastic job".

Although Coner admits that some homeschoolers "do a fantastic job" she clearly dislikes parents who are "very much into independence and being in control." Surely it's much better to have parents having independent and direct control over their children's education rather than trusting the next generation to a failed state system.

Tuesday 15 July 2003

Wrecks in the City: why Glaswegians are so unhealthy

The standard of health of people living in Glasgow is one of the lowest in Britain. Leftists always claim that the cause is poverty. Redistribute the wealth from more "fortunate" parts of the country and all will be well.

Not so. It looks like belief in socialism is itself a cause of bad health!

It seems those who believe the state should take responsibility for most aspects of life also tend to eschew personal responsibility for taking care of themselves. As a result, they are more likely to engage in lifestyles hazardous to their health, including drinking to excess and not exercising.

The just-published research was conducted among Russians, comparing those who longed for a to return to the old-style Soviet system with those who preferred the free-market approach to the economy.

This reminds me so much of Glasgow:
The theory is that Soviet-style socialism eventually induces passivity toward health promotion in the population. After all, previously the state provided for personal needs and the individual in turn gave up personal reliance and freedom. The state was a shelter as it provided free health care and education, old-age pensions, low-cost housing plus food and guaranteed employment.

However, the totalitarian nature and paternalism of such centrally-planned economies has been viewed as responsible for the development and spread of a psychology of passivity and irresponsibility. If they got sick, people knew that the government would take care of them and so this situation was not likely to feature a strong sense of personal responsibility for health

Glasgow has the largest stock of council houses in Europe:
But many of those homes are in a poor condition - damp, cold and in estates blighted by crime, drugs and "third world" poverty - and Glasgow City Council is unable to finance repairs because of its debt burden.
I can understand why Glasgow's politicians tore down old buildings after WWII and built the huge council estates that now blight much of the city. Nevertheless, they were wrong. The provision of subsidised housing on such a scale has turned all too many Glaswegians against entrepreneurship and that in turn has severely damaged the city's economy. Now we can also understand why so many in Glasgow are unhealthy. Down with politically produced "passivity and irresponsibility." Let's get the State out of the way and see a prosperous Glasgow that can once again be the equal of any city in the world.

Monday 14 July 2003

What about the deep-fried Mars Bar?

Now the politically correct are saying that fast foods are addictive:
The implications of the research could send tremors through international fast-food outlets such as McDonald's and KFC, which are already facing multi-million dollar lawsuits, with customers arguing that they have became addicted to fast food that subsequently damaged their health. Until now the companies have stressed the "personal responsibility" of customers.
Personal responsibility! How quaintly old fashioned.

If I owned McDonald's I'd simultaneously shut down every restaurant throughout the world and erect giant, flashing neon signs that said: "Closed by order of the health fascists."

Free the small business

Much of the opposition to "capitalism" comes from those who are quite fond of small businesses but don't like big corporations. I don't mind how large a business becomes provided that its size is the result of unencumbered market forces. All too often that is not the case. Small businesses are cutting back on employment because of the rising cost of liability insurance:
THE ongoing crisis in the liability insurance market is costing jobs, according the Federation of Small Businesses, which says 20% of its members surveyed in a recent poll have either frozen or cut back on employment in response to increasing costs.

The UK-wide poll of 1200 small firms - defined as those employing 50 people or less - found one in five reporting a doubling of premium costs on top of last year's "dramatic" increases.

Spokesmen for small businesses are calling for "a review of all legislation and policy changes that might result in additional increases to liability insurance." Good. What they also need to point out is that government legislation usually affects small businesses disproportionately and is often introduced after lobbying by big businesses that understand this only too well. It's a good way of knocking out smaller competitors. Much of the regulatory nonsense that emanates from the European Union is done at the behest of big businesses that wouldn't be able to compete in a genuinely free market. Indeed, according to Professor Thomas DiLorenzo, pandering to special interest groups at the expense of the free market was the cause of the American Civil War.

Sunday 13 July 2003

Reform the Rotten Burghs

Now we know why all those Scottish MPs supported Blair on the question of foundation hospitals for England:
Scotland on Sunday can reveal the government has sanctioned a last-minute reassessment of proposals to slash the size of Scotland’s representation at Westminster from 72 MPs to 59.

Opposition figures claim the cull had been put off as a reward to the Scottish MPs who controversially voted to save the government from humiliating defeat on its foundation hospitals scheme, which applies only to England.

The number of Scottish MPs should be immediately cut to the proportionately correct level of 59. The reduced number of Scottish MPs should then be barred from voting on, or indeed debating, any "England only" measures in Parliament. Finally, their salaries should be halved to reflect their reduced Westminster role of being responsible solely for input into UK-wide matters. Scottish MSPs should also have their salaries reduced so that one English MP (dealing with "English" and UK affairs) should cost the same as the equivalent two-person Scottish representation.

Friday 11 July 2003

String 'em up!

In the good old days Edinburgh graves were dug up for the purposes of medical science. On occasion, additional bodies were obtained by rather unscrupulous means. The Edinburgh authorities hanged Mr Burke in 1829 in front of a crowd of over 30,000 townsfolk.

In our more civilised era it's the political authorities themselves who vandalise graveyards:

COUNCIL workmen have been accused of vandalising a city cemetery by pushing over hundreds of headstones.

Furious residents in Kirkliston have demanded the local authority foots the bill to pay for the damage caused after the cemetery was left looking "like a bomb had hit it".

It's time for another good hanging, I think. The health and safety fascists should pay for this.

Thursday 10 July 2003

The federal question

According to Lord Palmerston, only three people understood the Schleswig-Holstein question: one was dead, the other had gone insane, and the third was himself, but he had forgotten it. Scotland has trumped Germany - or was it Denmark? - with the West Lothian question: why should Scottish MPs be allowed to vote on English domestic matters when English MPs can’t vote on equivalent Scottish legislation? This is indeed the state of affairs since the establishment of the Scottish parliament. Now the chickens have come home to roost.

Tony Blair would have been defeated on the introduction of foundation hospitals in the English NHS had he not been bailed out by Scottish Labour MPs. Not only was this a purely English matter, but those very same Scottish MPs oppose foundation hospitals in their own part of the UK and their Edinburgh colleagues have made sure that the Scottish NHS will remain unreformed. On top of this, the Health Secretary for England is a Scot, sitting for a Scottish seat, who, presumably, changes his opinion each time he crosses the border.

Enough of this nonsense.

In today’s Glasgow Herald Ruth Wishart writes:

The SNP says independence would remove the anomalies at a stroke but seems unable to persuade sufficient numbers of supporters to sign up to what's currently on offer.
It is clear that there is no majority for Scottish independence.

What we need is federalism, but, as Wishart points out:

The Liberal Democrats point to the neatness of a federal solution without solving the inherent problem of UK federalism being somewhat asymmetric when you factor an English parliament into the set up.
Regional parliaments for England would solve the "asymmetry", but there is no real demand for them in England, and, besides, why shouldn't England have its national identity recognised? I am not convinced that asymmetric federalism is an insurmountable problem. The "problem" of a federation dominated by England is largely caused by the state doing too much in the first place. Let's gradually cut back the functions of government towards its (arguably) legitimate one of protecting the citizen against aggression - and nothing else. This means having the police and court systems under the control of the various nations that make up the UK and keeping defence at the federal (UK) level.

The Freedom and Whisky constitutional plan is this:

Withdraw from the EU

Devolve all powers - except defence and foreign affairs - to the various national parliaments

Each parliament to be fiscally independent with contributions being made to the federal government in proportion to population

The federal government should be situated on the Isle of Man, which is not in any of the home countries but is equidistant from all four of them

The Irish Republic should be invited to unite with the North and rejoin the UK with Dublin taking its rightful place in the Anglosphere alongside Cardiff, Edinburgh and London

Tuesday 8 July 2003

Should we subsidise an Edinburgh Opera House?

The Scotsman's George Kerevan calls on the Scottish government to spend more on the arts. I was somewhat surprised by this, but Kerevan explains:
Regular readers might wonder how I reconcile this with my normal slash-and-burn attitude to wasteful government spending and exorbitant taxes. Easy. I’m Austrian: by which I mean I am a devotee of Austrian economics and consider there is a case for state patronage of the arts as a public good which has huge spill-over effects (ie the social and economic gains are widespread). These are: national pride, an understanding of excellence, and the promotion of civilised values. My caveat is that I don’t want the money spent by politically-correct bureaucrats who judge art by the number of operas performed in the ghettos. I want Timothy Clifford of the National Galleries to be able to afford to buy wonderful classical paintings. I want stunning plays that are not about folk taking drugs. I want perfection, not disguised social work.
Well, not all "Austrians" would agree with state patronage of the arts, and certainly not Murray Rothbard. I seem to recall reading somewhere that the most famous "Austrian", Ludwig von Mises, though opposed to almost all government expenditure, supported state subsidy of the Vienna Opera House. Mises was an opera fan. I am more of a Rothbardian purist, but if we ever get to the stage that the Scottish government limits its expenditure to the arts and nothing but the arts, I shan't be too worried.

Who on earth voted Green?

A few weeks ago I wrote about the Midgeater. This year it is needed more than ever:
The midge is back - and this time it's serious.

Scientists yesterday revealed that Scotland's natural nuisance is worse this summer than ever before.

They say it's not just the countryside that is being plagued by the flying pests. A midge found in urban areas, a close cousin of the notorious Highland species, has been breeding rapidly and huge squadrons have been targeting pubs and gardens in city centres.

There is bad news for would-be Midgeater purchasers:
Sadly, stocks of the device, which cost £1000 each, sold out within two weeks of it going on sale.
And there is plenty for the wee beasties to eat, or, rather, drink:
A midge considers 1/10,000,000 of a litre of blood a good meal.
I'll stick with beer.

(Update: If the midges don't get you, the seagulls will)

They don't make them like this any more!

This has just flown past my window. Wonderful sight and sound.

Monday 7 July 2003

Do not wear blue or green!

Anyone visiting Glasgow might like to attempt this.

Lies, damned lies and statistics

Why doesn't this surprise me?
JOHN McGrath, the socialist playwright who set up the 7:84 Theatre Company to highlight the fact that 7% of the population owned 84% of Britain's wealth, was a millionaire on paper.

He is perhaps best know for his militant theatre company that toured Scotland with works including the play The Cheviot, The Stag and the Black, Black Oil which told the story of the nation's exploitation from the Highland clearances to the oil boom.

Socialists routinely misuse statistics in support of their arguments. McGrath was at the forefront of this: ignore how people's relative wealth changes over a lifetime, don't count welfare benefits or the use of council housing as wealth, pay no attention to the difference between wealth earned in the free market and that obtained through political favour.

I say that the 7% of the population to be found in the New Labour/Guardian political complex controls the 84% of us who are trying to earn an honest living.

Off with their heads

There was no posting over the weekend because I was down in London attending the 3rd British Blogger Bash. Some of my fellow bloggers were depressed about the state of the country. One thought that we were in the equivalent of the year 1635 in terms of the civil war (the War of the Three Kingdoms according to Norman Davies). Another yearned for an immediate rising by the people against the hated Blair clique, but wasn’t too optimistic.

I commend to my two friends the latest article by Scotland on Sunday’s Gerald Warner in which he writes about the proposed ban on foxhunting in England and Wales:

POLITICIANS are trash. Even this column must occasionally voice a non-contentious opinion. For if there is one sentiment that commands nationwide consensus and is incapable of provoking controversy in the most argumentative public bar, it is the loathing and contempt for the political class that now pervades Britain. This universal alienation is unprecedented. It portends the next evolutionary change in our political history - the demise of the parliamentary system.

This is likely to be consummated in the course of the next decade, having been greatly accelerated by the advent of the poisonous phenomenon of New Labour. No man has done more to subvert British parliamentary democracy than Tony Blair: that is how he will be remembered in history.

Warner believes that:
Country people made one fatal mistake: on the day that Tony Martin was jailed, they should have marched on the prison where he was held, torn it down brick by brick and pledged that their response to the next provocation would be to treat 10 Downing Street in the same fashion.
Perhaps we are “in 1635”, for the foxhunting proposals ...
….. could accelerate a process that already looks inevitable - the British people turning their backs on the discredited talking shops at Westminster and elsewhere that have now betrayed all their legitimate expectations, not least of law and order. Subsidiarity could turn out to mean something very different from what MPs and Eurocrats intended - self-policing rural and even urban communities, for example.

There is more to constitutional change than the Great Charlatan scribbling on the back of an envelope. Parliamentary pseudo-government is doomed, just like feudalism and absolute monarchy before it. Charles I could not see it coming: neither can Blair. Yet come it will, even if its precise character cannot be predicted. As a former lefty, Blair should be familiar with the maxim of that other great charlatan, Herbert Marcuse: "Out of chaos, something will arise.”

Mr Warner regularly attracts opprobrium from the usual useful idiots. I have a funny feeling that he is merely a wee bit ahead of his time. Roll on 1649.

Friday 4 July 2003

Growth needed

Professor Donald Macrae of Lloyds TSB says that Scotland needs more economic growth:
Scotland has the fourth lowest GDP per capita in the EU after Spain, Portugal and Greece. Our annual average real growth rate between 1973 to 2001, at an anaemic 1.6 per cent, compares unfavourably to the UK’s 2.1 per cent, Finland’s 2.6 per cent, the US at 2.8 per cent, Norway at 3.3 per cent and Ireland’s Celtic tiger performance of 5.2 per cent.
Our politicians are not facing up to this, Scotland's greatest problem. And the professor's solution:
But the biggest change lies in the Scottish Parliament itself. The link between the Parliament and the Scottish economy is tenuous at best and must be strengthened. The most obvious solution is to make the Scottish Parliament more responsible for raising the taxes it spends. Increasing fiscal devolution would have the twin benefits of focusing the attention of the Parliament on improving the Scottish economy and introducing a level of responsibility not apparent at present.
This is absolutely correct. Our MSPs act like a bunch of schoolchildren spending the pocket money supplied by over-indulgent parents. Until they are responsible for raising their own expenditure they will never understand the world of business. Of course businesses have to obtain revenue by selling to willing buyers and that's very different from collecting taxes but we need to start educating our politicians somewhere.

Thursday 3 July 2003

New Scottish air services

I posted this over on the Transport Blog

A victim of the State

56-year-old Mrs Biz Ivol is seriously ill after an apparent drug overdose:
Mrs Ivol stood trial last month on charges of cultivating, possessing and supplying cannabis, resulting from a police raid two years ago. The charges relate to the supply of cannabis-laced chocolates to fellow MS sufferers.
The case was dropped yesterday when the Orkney sheriff accepted that Mrs Ivol was too ill to make further court appearances. The MS sufferer had threatened to kill herself should she be prevented from using cannabis. She had already made arrangements for her own funeral.

Why on earth do politicians force the police to persecute and prosecute the infirm while allowing criminals to run rampant?

At least the fictional cops are free to show common sense. In a recent episode of The Bill:

PCs Cameron Tait and Honey Harman are called to an old people's home where some of the residents are behaving rather strangely. But it's not long before they find the root of the problems at the home of a green fingered resident.
Yes, he was growing cannabis and the old folk were enjoying some relaxation. PC Tate confirmed to his colleague that he had removed all of the offending plants but was seen to carefully leave one behind.

Wednesday 2 July 2003

Saying no to hot air

Sadly, the plan to construct a wind farm on top of the new Scottish parliament building has been dropped:
The mini-wind farm would have generated enough power to heat water for hand basins or security lighting at Holyrood.
Surely this is wrong: the amount of hot air generated from within the building would have been enough to satisfy the electricity needs of the whole country.

Tuesday 1 July 2003

How to destroy Britain

Tony Blair was born in Edinburgh and partly educated here. Nevertheless, he seems to understand nothing about Scotland. The Prime Minister's plans for a new UK supreme court were made without consulting the Scottish parliament and, unsurprisingly, it's not just the nationalists who are angry:
The SNP's criticism has been echoed by the Conservatives who have also accused Westminster of showing "contempt" for Scottish interests.

The Tory's Lord James Douglas Hamilton said: "If the prime minister on his own whim, makes a decision with fundamental, far reaching consequences, without consulting the Scottish Parliament, that is showing contempt for the institution he is trying to create."

Lord Douglas Hamilton is the epitome of loyalist British conservatism and if he is upset you know something is afoot. And it's not merely opposition politicians who are in rebellion:
Last week, Scotland's most senior Law Lord warned that plans for a supreme court could put Scots law and the devolution system at stake.
Any British supreme court must be carefully designed to accommodate the separate legal systems of Scotland and England. Failure to do this could destroy the union.