Monday 29 September 2003

The left hand doesn't know what the other left hand is doing

Last week the Scottish education minister announced the scrapping of school league tables. League tables! Information for parents! My goodness, that kind of thing is far too "divisive".

It now turns out that Mr Peacock has run into a small problem:

However, the newly appointed Scottish information commissioner, Kevin Dunion, has now said that restricting parents’ access to information would be in breach of the government’s own legislation - the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act.

The law, which comes into effect on 1 January, 2005, gives the public the right to see any information held by public bodies unless its release jeopardises national security or the public interest

Presumably the government will claim that exposing the abject failure of the state education system is against the "public interest" and indeed probably threatens national security.

Let's get the state out of the education business once and for all. That day may be nearer than one may think if this article is anything to go by.

Incidentally, why does Judith Gillespie of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council (sic) always support the interests of the producer class and never those of education's consumers?

Gordon, you plonker

Is this actually good news for Scots?
The majority of UK company directors would rather deal with someone who sounds like Gordon Brown than Del Boy Trotter, a study of accents has found.
I would hope that company directors go by more than how people talk. Maybe Del Boy sells us the odd bit of "dodgy gear" now and again but he usually gets his comeuppance in the end and justice is done. Gordon Brown, on the other hand, has destroyed our pensions, strangled business with red tape and is taxing us to death, leaving taxpayers "boracic" and companies with few "nice little earners".

I'm a company director. Give me Del Boy any day.

Saturday 27 September 2003

Whisky and Freedom

Well, you can't be too careful these days.

The US Defence Threat Reduction Agency is spying on the Bruichladdich distillery on the Isle of Islay.

This seems perfectly understandable given that:

"The United States is part of the Chemical Weapons Convention. That includes monitoring and visiting commercial facilities where they would be able to make chemical weapons."
The US admitted watching the distilling process because it is similar to the manufacture of chemical weapons.
I wonder though if the US authorities realise that Bruichladdich isn't the only distillery on Islay. There are many others and what's more I have been to several of them. As far as I recall, I didn't see all that many inebriated Muslim fundamentalists in the bar of the Bowmore Hotel or in the Harbour Inn, although perhaps I couldn't tell them apart from the locals after I had sampled a modest quantity of the local product.

Friday 26 September 2003

Scotland needs Mises and Rothbard not Krugman and Keynes

The Scotsman tells us that Wendy Alexander, former Enterprise Minister and Scotland's best-known MBA, has organised a programme of lectures designed to boost our economic growth rate:
The speakers, dubbed the "Real Madrid" of economists, will include William Baumol, an emeritus professor of economics at Princeton University, Paul Krugman, an economist and commentator, James Heckman, a winner of the Nobel prize for economics, and Ed Glaeser and Nicholas Crafts, both from the UK.
If these guys are the "Real Madrid", then Paul Krugman is the David Beckham of the team, at least in terms of his media stardom. But can Krugman score for Scotland? I suspect not. The only economics that makes sense is that of the "Austrian School" whose intellectual base is now at the Mises Institute.

They are expert Krugman watchers:

That truly great economic journalist, Frédéric Bastiat, who saw the first waves of socialist humbug sweeping across Europe in the late 19th century, wrote, responding to the Paul Krugmans of his day: "We disapprove of state education. Then the socialists say that we are opposed to any education ... We object to a state-enforced equality (of rights). Then they say that we are against equality ... It is as if the socialists were to accuse us of not wanting persons to eat because we do not want the state to raise grain."
At root, Mr. Krugman's crusade is one of envy. He parodies his opponents, ignores arguments that undermine his thesis and accuses anybody who does not agree with him of being "fanatical," brainless, hard-hearted or a liar.
He sounds just like a member of Ms Alexander's Scottish Labour Party.

The Scotsman's Bill Jamieson has some idea of what is wrong:

Today, we enjoy (sic) a rising level of government spending and a growing dependence on government in all its forms. Only one thing is wrong. The heart of Scotland’s economy has ceased to beat.
Writing to me about Jamieson's commentary, Andrew Duffin says:
As long as most of our people think the state is the solution, Scotland will continue to fail. Once they realise that the state is the problem, we can start to put things right.
I don't expect that's what Krugman will be telling us.

Thursday 25 September 2003

My photo of Hayek

I was very pleased to receive this video of Friedrich Hayek from the Liberty Fund of Indianapolis. The video was sent to me because it contains this photo of Hayek that I took at the Alternative Bookshop in London when the great man was visiting in 1980.

Down with "social divisiveness"

Our governing politicians are beginning to notice that Scotland's population is falling. The solution: encourage more incomers
Mr McConnell's message was aimed at bright and qualified youngsters from outside Scotland, including the rest of Britain and the EU, and further afield. More than 5000 overseas students graduate in Scotland annually, and the executive wants them to stay to help stem the country's falling population.

Many workers from beyond the EU would require work permits and visas, a power reserved to Westminster and a source of criticism provoked by the detention of some skilled workers and their children in Dungavel.

Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser rightly observes that the executive has contributed to the population decline by refusing to reform "public services". But of course what is needed is the privatisation of almost all of these so-called services. Then our economy would be the envy of Europe. In the meantime the government is actively making things worse:
MINISTERS are to scrap the publication of national exam "league" tables, describing them as ''meaningless".

Peter Peacock, education minister, said the tables in their current form were "illusory", offering only "a very narrow measure of a school".

In a separate major reform of school education, Mr Peacock will announce today that he is scrapping national testing under the 5-14 programme and will consult the public on plans to replace the tests with a sophisticated form of scientific sampling.

Of all the Lab/Lib administration's crimes, the worst is surely the destruction of Scotland's education system. The educational-political establishment is paranoid about any kind of objective testing. Very well, let's expand this principle. It seems to me that elections for parliament are divisive - how devastating it must be for losing candidates to be "socially excluded" from power. Instead MSPs must be selected at random from the electoral roll - in a "sophisticated scientific" way of course. Think of all the money that could be saved by abolishing elections. Indeed, given that the idea of inculcating knowledge is regarded as being somewhat fascist these days, why not pick teachers at random as well?

Wednesday 24 September 2003

Government jobs: where should they go?

There was a huge row when it was announced that Scottish Natural Heritage would be relocated from Edinburgh to Inverness. The same arguments have started up again after VisitScotland has said that it too may leave the capital. Remaining in Edinburgh is one of ten options being considered. It is understandable that Edinburgh politicians are against any move:
David McLetchie, Scottish Conservative leader and Edinburgh Pentlands MSP, reportedly said: "The Scottish Executive and VisitScotland will have to be a lot more convincing than they were with SNH, when they ended up having to order the body to make the move, upsetting employees, and costing the public purse tens of millions.

"No-one should under-estimate the impact and trauma such changes can have on employees and their families, and if their expertise is lost to VisitScotland as a result of this, everyone ends up a loser."

Margaret Smith, Liberal Democrat MSP for Edinburgh West, was quoted saying: "Many people don’t want to be forced to move. If they aren’t prepared to, we end up with a diminished service."

The Edinburgh Evening News expresses its concern:
But the fact is that Edinburgh is the gateway to Scotland for the vast majority of tourists. So where exactly could be a better location for the tourism agency’s headquarters?

Despite the fact that the quango is based here, there are already concerns that VisitScotland does not give Edinburgh the attention or the funding that the city deserves.

In fact Edinburgh receives only a tiny part of VistScotland’s budget, which hardly makes sense when the industry, and indeed the Scottish economy, depends so heavily upon the city’s success.

The News suggests that VisitScotland's under support of Edinburgh may be because the city succeeds in attracting plenty of tourists without government aid. If so, that seems a reasonable policy. I am not at all convinced that tourism, or any industry for that matter, should be supported by the taxpayer. If we are to "aid" tourism, surely funds should go to parts of the country that are most in need of visitors. I am sure that taxpayers in post-industrial Lanarkshire aren't too happy at seeing their money used to attract yet more tourists to prosperous Edinburgh.

Of course Edinburgh's politicians and newspapers will speak out for their city but I think that the policy of decentralising government departments away from the capital is correct. Devolution has given Edinburgh an even larger share of Scotland's better paying jobs - just as government activity in London has boosted that city at the expense of the rest of the UK. Private sector workers constantly have to move from one part of the country to another and they rarely enjoy the benefits given in the public sector. The real solution to these relocation rows is to leave money in the pockets of taxpayers and let the market, not politicians, decide where jobs should be. I have little doubt that a privately run economy would see a far more equitable distribution of jobs throughout the country than one managed by politicians. It's no coincidence that the world's capital cities usually have the best-paid jobs.

Tuesday 23 September 2003

Here's one you really couldn't make up

Who's going to start a business when this kind of thing is being introduced:
EMPLOYERS may have to provide prayer-rooms for staff and allow religious holidays as part of radical new laws to prevent discrimination at work.
I imagine that employment law is a "reserved" matter and therefore beyond the powers of the occupants of our own expensive parliament. That's a pity for I am sure that the massed ranks of Glaswegian socialist MSPs would love to sort out this legal conundrum:
Lawyers say the provisions also throw up a number of issues in terms of sectarianism, especially in the west of Scotland. Employers would be subject to a tribunal claim unless they offer a "rigorous" recruitment policy, open to both Catholics and Protestants.
A policy of limiting hiring to proven supporters of Partick Thistle may not get you off the hook.

"Fuzzy" Liberals

According to that disastrous politician Shirley Williams, formerly of the Labour Party and now LibDem leader in the Lords, her current party's image is unclear:
"We are still too fuzzy. Our central themes are not clear enough and not obvious enough to the public," she told a fringe meeting at the party conference."
Party leader Charles Kennedy agrees and thinks "something should be done":
He said voters were looking for the party to produce a more "robust" agenda. "We have to put more detailed policy flesh on the bones of our approach," he added.
I think this is quite wrong.

The strength of the Liberal Democrats is their image as a kind of unthreatening middle-of-the road party, attractive to dissident Tory and Labour voters alike. Appearing to have no policies is good, or rather having a policy to suit every interest group is better as Tory councillor Brian Meek has noted:

..... in the local elections last May there was a proposal to close off an Edinburgh road which had become a rat-run for drivers. The problem was the residents were divided about whether this was a good idea.

The LibDems had the ideal solution. In the part of the street for the closure they put out a leaflet supporting such action. At the other end of the road they issued a leaflet opposing the plan.

And it's not only in Scotland that the LibDems perform this trick:
The constituency of Cheadle, in the Stockport area, has a female LibDem MP who told the local paper last month that she was fully in support of foundation status for Stepping Hill Hospital. Days before, at Westminster, she voted against the idea of foundation status for any hospital in the country.
If I were asked to advise the Liberal Democrats, I would tell them to retain their "fuzziness" for as long as possible. It wouldn't do for them to be outed as a group of politically correct, tax-and-spend, nanny-statists who besmirch that grand old word "liberal".

Monday 22 September 2003

Onwards to £500 million

Today's Scotsman gives some detail of where the extra spending on the Scottish parliament building has been incurred:
More than £4 million was spent on cranes, twice as much as expected, and more than £10 million was spent on specialist glazing - four times the amount initially planned.

For the main debating chamber, Holyrood planners initially expected to pay £14.7 million for the frame - a figure which has soared to £34.4 million - and £5 million for joinery, the latter figure having more than doubled to almost £12 million.

And if the politicians still want to take the piss:
..... toilets in the Holyrood building were planned to cost £1.3 million, but the final bill is expected to reach £2.4 million, an increase of 87 per cent.
But the really interesting news was in yesterday's Mail on Sunday for which there is unfortunately no website. The Mail reported that the contractor responsible for the Assembly building frame (up from £14.7m in 1998 to a staggering £34.4m) was O'Rourke Scotland Ltd and that they had "in 2001 donated to Labour Party funds by taking tables at fundraising dinners and contributing gifts to the value of £5,000 or more." I wonder if Jack McConnell will give back the donations. Let's hear it from the opposition.

Who's bingeing?

The latest thing to attract the attention of Scotland's control freaks is our "culture of binge drinking." We drink standing up, usually without an accompaniment of food and, horrors, we insist on everyone standing a round. Naturally, something must be done, and when that's the case there's always a politician or two waiting in the wings.

Hugo Rifkind isn't happy, but I think he is encouraging control freakism himself:

Last week's government report identified a "culture of intoxication" among Britain's drinkers. In return, I'd like to identify a "culture of stating-the-bloody-obvious" among the compilers of government reports. People who drink like to get drunk. Of course they do.
I have little doubt that I have been visiting pubs for a lot longer than Hugo. In the last month or so I have visited licensed premises in Ayr, Perth, Pittenweem, Selkirk, Bristol, Keswick and Edinburgh. And guess what Hugo - I haven't seen anyone drunk. It's a lot cheaper to get drunk at home - not that I can understand why one would want to get drunk in the first place. People go to pubs to drink but also to socialise and to enjoy the atmosphere. Let's leave our pubs as they are. Now, binge tax-consumers: there we have a real problem.

Sunday 21 September 2003

Why Edinburgh's road pricing scheme may not work

I like to get the weekly supermarket trip done early on Sunday morning when the roads and the store are quiet. Although it is further than its rivals the prices at Asda are less than elsewhere and there is also the opportunity to call in at Borders on the way home.

And so at nine this morning I found myself driving up Lothian Road, through Tollcross, across the Meadows (remembering the new speed camera) and over South Clerk Street ready for the right turn. But there was no right turn: I had to go left, and along St Leonard’s Street I went with no opportunity for turning back. There was still no explanation as to why the roads were being blocked.

Eventually I reached the Royal Mile, expecting to continue ahead and make an easterly turn beyond Waverley Station. But that road was closed as well. I had begun to notice large numbers of traffic wardens and police motorcyclists. Could there perhaps be a large demonstration? It seemed unlikely: the protests against the Iraq intervention hadn’t produced this degree of traffic "management". In the clogged-up Royal Mile taxis were doing u-turns and I did the same. Back along St Leonard’s Street I went, past the home of Inspector Rebus, and on to Cameron Toll.

Eventually I reached Asda and then Borders. I decided it might be better to return by the alternative route, but where the A1 does a ninety-degree left turn at Jock’s Lodge the road was blocked again. After a lengthy detour through previously undiscovered and extremely congested back streets I eventually reached Leith Walk and headed for the City Centre. By now it was after ten and Queen Street was amazingly busy for that hour on a Sunday morning in Edinburgh. Residents’ cars had received parking tickets and more police were in evidence. Then I saw the sign that explained why there was so much chaos on the roads. It was the day of Edinburgh’s “Car Free Festival”, which:

gives us some quiet time to reflect on these issues, and a tantalising glimpse of what our town centre streets could be like with less motor traffic.
Well, on "reflection", I have come to the conclusion that our City Councillors' plans for road pricing in Edinburgh will produce total chaos. In principle I accept that road users should pay the economic cost of their use but this morning showed that local politicians are the last people on earth to be trusted to have anything to do with transport.

How to avoid the M6

Yesterday I met a gentleman who lives on the south coast of England. He regularly drives from there up to Scotland – a hellish journey that I used to undertake regularly before moving to Edinburgh. I am sufficiently ancient to remember the days when the trip was enjoyable and can even recall attending an all-night party in London and driving the 550-odd miles to Oban immediately afterwards. Those were the days. Now it can take three hours to get past Birmingham.

My new acquaintance has a solution. For his next Scottish visit he will first take the ferry from Dover to Calais. Then he has a short drive to Zeebrugge in Belgium from where he will take the Superfast car ferry to Rosyth – a mere fifteen miles from Edinburgh! That’s what I call lateral thinking.

Are the Scottish Tories on the way back?

Last week the Sunday Times reported that a majority of Tory MSPs now favoured fiscal independence for the Scottish parliament. At yesterday's Scottish Conservative conference, party leader David McLetchie said that he was against fiscal independence! I wonder if the Sunday Times report was wrong - if not McLetchie leads a party that sees a very different future for Scotland than he does.

Mr McLetchie thinks that the Scottish Tories can now overtake the Nationalists and become the main opposition party in Scotland. The polls show the Tories catching up with the SNP - currently in disarray:

At the Scottish parliament election in May, the Tories won 16.6% of the first-past-the-post votes and 15.8% of the list votes, compared to the SNP’s 23.7% and 20.4%.

McLetchie cited recent polling figures which he believes favour his party. A private poll by the polling organisation YouGov, has shown the Tories and SNP level at "just over 20%".

Conservative activists tend to be rather on the elderly side and the party is often thought to be out-of-touch with younger people. The poll quoted by McLetchie shows the Scottish Tories doing particularly well in the 20-29 age range. If the Conservatives in Scotland can emphasise the natural linkage between economic and personal freedoms they may indeed have a chance of becoming the main opposition party. All of Scotland's other parties are mired in expanding statism and political correctness. There is room for an alternative.

Tuesday 16 September 2003


Family commitments mean that there will be little or no blogging until Friday.

Monday 15 September 2003

Europe 56, Frankenreich 42

A good result for true Europeans.

I watched the Swedish referendum result coming through on the Internet last night. When I logged in, "Nej" was winning by 60% to 40%. Great, I thought, and then noticed that only 1% of the votes had been counted. As the night went on I expected "Ja" to catch up strongly. But no, the good guys retained the lead and confounded the experts.

And what about this "expert":

But Chris Bryant, Labour MP and chair of the Labour Movement for Europe, said: "Obviously I would have preferred it if Sweden had voted Yes, but Sweden is Sweden and Britain is Britain and we have a very different economy."
Well, yes. Britain's economy is even less dependent on European links than is Sweden's!

The Swedish referendum has implications for us in Scotland. I note that there was a pro-Euro majority in Stockholm and Malmo: the largest city and the one nearest the European heartland. The rest of Sweden voted "no". Our equivalent cities are Glasgow and Edinburgh. Perhaps the rest of Scotland would contain most of our "no" voters if we were to hold a referendum but rural and small town Scotland is the stronghold of the Scottish Nationalists who are resolutely pro-Euro! The Scottish Tories should be planning to use this issue to retake SNP seats in what were their traditional areas.

There may be financial trouble ahead

A majority of Tory MSPs now favour fiscal independence for Scotland. We are told that implementation of such a change would require a Conservative government in Westminster and that:
The move would also have the potential to create a constitutional rift between Westminster and Holyrood if a UK Tory government were to impose fiscal autonomy on an unwilling Labour Scottish executive.
But surely there is potential for trouble the moment the Scottish Tories officially adopt fiscal independence. At that point I imagine that there could be a pro-fiscal independence majority in the Edinburgh parliament with only Labour holding out for the present dependency-culture arrangements. Could a Tory-Nationalist alliance bring down the government? To avoid such an outcome the (Il)liberal Democrats would have to vote against further devolution!

I'm sorry for the technical problems earlier today. I don't know why the site wasn't publishing correctly but after a lot of trial and error it seems to have been fixed.

Friday 12 September 2003

Good news from St Andrews

I have received another e-mail:

Dear David,

I am very happy to report that the cat has turned up. I had just finished tramping through the neighborhood dropping a couple of hundred fliers into mailboxes; then for the umpteenth time this week I called her from our back garden, but this time a cat voice responded and presently she appeared out of the hedge from the neighbor's garden. All that tramping may have been wasted effort, but then again, I did ask people to check their garages and sheds to make sure a cat hadn't gotten stuck inside, so who knows if someone checked and let her out? Morgan seems none the worse for wear, but she's not telling what adventures she had. Many thanks for your bandwidth and to you and your readers for your good vibes, which no doubt helped her get home.


I do hope that Morgan is kept under lock and key tomorrow. Just a few miles from St Andrews the Royal Air Force will be holding its annual Battle of Britain Airshow at Leuchars. We don't want the cat to get scared by these guys.

Poor judgement

Aren't politicians stupid sometimes? One of Edinburgh's MPs is complaining that our judges are not sufficiently diverse:
The Edinburgh North and Leith MP said: "The new appointment system has been running for over a year and has not produced the diversity of judicial appointments we hoped. They’re still mainly middle-class and white."
Hasn't it occurred to Mr Lazarowicz that all people holding the necessary qualifications to become judges are by definition middle-class (or higher) no matter what their family background? I also think it rather peculiar that this Member of Parliament hasn't noticed that over 98% of the Scottish population is white. This is not to say that our judges don't make spectacular errors; they do. But these mistakes are usually the result of pandering to political correctness of the sort promoted by, well, Labour MPs like Mr Lazarowicz.

Attention readers in Fife

I have received this e-mail from a reader:

Dear David,

I have a favor to ask you which I hope you won't find too unusual. I am a St Andrews resident and our family's cat has gone missing this week. Might you be willing to post a note with info and contact info on your excellent Freedom and Whiskey blog? I'm trying to alert local residents in as many ways as I can, including via Scottish bloggers. There's a six-year-old boy who misses his cat who would be very grateful. His mother and I would be too.

Thanks and keep up the good work. It's good to know that there are others of a libertarian persuasion in Scotland.
Best wishes,
Jim Davila

The message I'd like you to post is the following:


"Morgan," is a small gray cat (with a small white spot on her chest), missing from St Andrews (the vicinity of the the corner of Doocot Road and Bogward Street). She is an indoor cat who is not used to being outside. She is timid and she may run from you if you approach her, but we would be grateful to be alerted if you find her or you see a new cat in your area who fits this description. If you do, please e-mail Jim at There is a reward for her safe return or information leading to it.

Dr. Jim Davila
Lecturer in Early Jewish Studies
St. Mary's College
University of St. Andrews
St. Andrews, Fife KY16 9JU
United Kingdom
Tel.: +44 1334 462834
Fax.: +44 1334 462852

Please help find this libertarian feline.

Thursday 11 September 2003

Why are we so dirty?

The Scotsman is running a series of articles on Scotland's tourist industry. In today's issue we can read this article telling us how things are done in Austria. Not only were the rooms at the basic level accommodation spotless but the rest of the town too:
The whole town was clean and well presented. They cleaned the streets. If there was litter, whoever saw it picked it up. The whole community was making an effort, and everywhere was spotlessly clean.
Here in Scotland the amount of litter is a national disgrace. I recognise that the Edinburgh City Council makes a brave attempt to keep the streets clean but it is an uphill struggle. In much of the country the litter and graffiti has taken over. Why is this problem so much worse here than elsewhere in the western world? I believe that there are two explanations.

First, Scotland is dominated by socialism, both in politics and the media. This means that there is a lack of respect for private property. After all, "property is theft," isn't it? As we saw in the communist world this doesn't mean that people will respect "public" property instead. Environmental degradation was far worse in eastern block countries than in the capitalist world. When people either don't own property or are brainwashed into thinking that ownership is evil they will treat the country like a rubbish dump. That was my first theory and I stand by it. What, though, of the fact that high-tax Scandinavia and other parts of Europe don't seem to be populated by litterlouts?

My second theory goes like this: the British government is the only one in Europe that is actively seeking to destroy the traditions and history of its own country. We may (rightly) object to French economic dirigisme or inflexible German labour laws and we can't help but note that the EU's Corpus Juris will destroy our legal traditions. But for the continental countries the development of the Euro-project is a continuation of their normal way of doing things. For Britain, though, our whole tradition based on individual liberty and the rule of law is being destroyed by our own government. Blair & Co continuously make it clear that they hate everything that Britain ever stood for. I believe that, despite the attempts of their teachers, young people today are vaguely aware that something nasty is happening to their homeland. They are right, although they don't quite understand what is happening. Actions have consequences and I believe that the outcome is rowdiness in Greek holiday resorts, rioting at England football matches and - our speciality - a litter and graffiti defiled Scotland.

Hair today and gone tomorrow

Rival businesses are battling it out in Edinburgh.

My friendly neighbourhood pub has a notice board that is patronised by local traders seeking customers. Two prominent advertisers are Haymarket Barbers and George and Jim's Barbers. Some of the competing ads have been defaced: one of the salons apparently offers "pubic haircuts" by special appointment....

The rivalry is explained by looking at this ad:

"Barbers George and Jim have left Haymarket Barbers and are now situated directly across the road at 33 Dalry Road"
Well today at lunchtime the Haymarket Barbers guy came in and placed one of his leaflets on the board. He then sneakily removed the George and Jim ad. Sadly for him one of the regulars drew this to the attention of the barmaid and she not only made him replace his rival's ad but also refused to allow his own one to be displayed.

"I'll complain to the manager about this," he said.

"Do it," the barmaid replied.

"In fact I'll write to the district manager," he responded.

"Why don't you write to the Prime Minister? He'll sort it out," said one of the drinkers.

Mr Haymarket stormed out and we all laughed.

This sort of chaos will be avoided once Gordon Brown takes over and establishes the Ministry of Haircuts. Taxes of course will not be cut.

Tuesday 9 September 2003

Where's your social inclusion now?

Local MP Robin Cook is objecting to prospective neighbours:
The Scots MP, who resigned as leader of the House of Commons over the Iraq conflict, is relying on his past power to try to prevent new neighbours moving in. Mr Cook is upset about an application for a "house in multiple occupation" licence for a flat above him in the tenement in which he lives in the affluent Merchiston area of Edinburgh.

His home was the subject of strong Home Office security measures when he was foreign secretary.

"Although I am no longer in government I remain very prominent in public life and it is important for me that my home base is a place of privacy where I am secure from any form of confrontation," the politician told the city council in a protest letter from Westminster.

Well, well. All of us want to have considerate neighbours but the best way to achieve that is to have properly enforced property rights - something that Cook's Labour party has always opposed. I note that Cook thinks that senior politicians deserve special attention because he is "prominent in public life" and wants his home to be a "place of privacy". I think that the victims of our new "right to roam" law won't be too sympathetic to Cook's cry for privacy.

And what about this:

The MP said he also had worries concerning the stair's "demographic character".
If a Tory said that all hell would break loose.

Bridge over misnamed water

There are plans for another bridge over the Forth:
A BRIDGE for trams and buses will have to be built over the Forth, alongside the existing road and rail bridges, to solve the huge traffic crisis between Fife and the Lothians, it was claimed yesterday.

The Forth Estuary Transport Authority (Feta), which is in charge of the Forth road bridge, said the Scottish Executive must look seriously at a new crossing.

OK, maybe it's needed but what's this "Estuary" business? As all Scots know it's not an Estuary, it's a Firth. As I may have suggested before, local transport authorities must be acronym-friendly. So out with Feta and in with the Forth Area Rapid Transit.

Beer and sandwiches won't fix this

So much for Blair's "business friendly" regime. This chart shows a comparison between movements in the FTSE and Dow Jones indices over the last five years. In that period, our index has lost 20% of its value and the US one gained 20%. Many Americans lost out when the Dow moved up 40% and then lost all of the gains late last year. At least they have regained half of those losses. God help us when Gordon Brown takes over and the unions are back in control.

Sunday 7 September 2003

Out of the mouths of children...

Doesn't this make you feel sorry for Tony Blair?
In a tumultuous day, the Prime Minister arrived to a chorus of disapproval from a section of the 20,000 crowd sitting near the Royal Enclosure at the Highland games.
And it got worse:
Blair’s day went from bad to worse when 12-year-old Erin MacAlpine, who was chosen to present flowers to the Queen, refused to smile at the Prime Minister and described him as a "nasty man".
And she remained in an unforgiving mood when spoken to later, saying: "The Queen thanked me for the flowers and asked me where I was from. I like the Queen. She looked lovely and she smiled at me.

"But I don’t like Tony Blair. He is not a very nice man."

Have we found the new Margaret Thatcher?

The Blogger system was "Facing a Denial of Service Attack" yesterday - whatever that means. That's why my blog was unobtainable for about 12 hours.

Friday 5 September 2003

Not our first "flash mob"

Edinburgh's New Town has experienced its first flash mob:
I’m standing at the junction of Castle Street and Princes Street. It’s 5:37pm precisely. Several hours ago I synchronised my watch with the speaking clock and I can just about guarantee that the hundred or so people around me also have accurate timepieces. Why? Because we’re here to flash mob and timing is everything. As we point to the sky and chatter loudly about an impending spectacle, I wonder how I came to be here.
For those who don't know:
Flash mobbing has become the doyenne of the "silly season", as seemingly random groups of people converge in a public space to behave in a rather odd manner.
As is often the case, this kind of thing has been going on in the Old Town for much longer.

In the Church of Scotland building just off the Royal Mile a group of about 129 people have been flash mobbing for the past four years. They too behave oddly, chatter loudly and, for all I know, point to the sky to seek inspiration on how to save the Scottish economy. But the members of the Scottish parliament haven't succeeded so far:

JIM Wallace set out the Scottish Executive’s approach to enterprise and the economy yesterday, but immediately came under attack from business leaders and opposition politicians for failing to articulate any kind of vision which could turn the economy around.
And the hapless Jim Wallace wasn't the first Enterprise Minister without a clue. Young entrepreneur Keith Anderson of Boston Networks is contemplating quitting Scotland because of our incompetent politicians and Anderson doesn't think much of Wallace's predecessor:
"I feel we have a lot of politicians who haven’t run businesses. Iain Gray was Enterprise Minister and his credentials were he’d been a teacher and worked at Oxfam," he complains.
The trouble is that virtually none of our politicians have any experience or understanding of business. They probably think that introducing university degrees in flash mobbing would be a way to revive the economy.

Our wonderful NHS

Peter Symms has been told that his urgent medical test will be somewhat delayed.

No news there, surely. But Mr Symms is no ordinary patient:

Mr Symms, who was once a personnel director for NHS Borders, said: "What happened is I went to my GP in May and said my hearing was starting to deteriorate. It probably goes back to when I was a seaman and was subject to a lot of loud noise.

"I got a letter back from the hospital as a result of her (his doctor's) referral saying the waiting time was 40 weeks."

Mr Symms, who is due to go to New Zealand for three months this winter, wrote to the chief executive of NHS Borders and contacted Lesley Smith, the chief audiologist, expressing his concerns.

However in August Ms Smith wrote back to Mr Symms, saying: "I have to inform you that our waiting list has now unfortunately gone over the 52 weeks' waiting time and has increased now to 90 weeks' waiting time from receipt of your referral letter.

This guy was an NHS personnel director. Had he not noticed that this kind of thing is typical in our Stalinist health "service"? Perhaps he was one of those who trained NHS staff to tell worried patients that the organisation has "to take account of annual leave etc, and all the other pressures of service provision".

"Er, Mr Safeway, why don't you have any milk in stock today?"

"Well you see, we have to take account of annual leave etc, and all the other pressures of service provision."

"OK then, I'll come back in 90 weeks."

We must be approaching the point when even the most boneheaded statists acknowledge that the NHS is not the "envy of the world" and that something else needs to take its place. Step forward Mr Safeway.

Thursday 4 September 2003

My last trip to Belfast

The Herald sports writer and Edinburgh councillor Brian Meek has been to Belfast for a golf tournament. He writes about a previous visit:
In 1975 I am visiting the city of Belfast and staying in the Europa Hotel. This is the most-bombed lodging-house in the whole of Europe and, anxious to put my family fears at rest, I ring home and tell the dearest that there is absolutely nothing to worry about, so I am just off to the Crown Bar across the street.

At this point, as I glance out of the window, two men carrying revolvers are sprinting across the car park and are firing at a pursuing British Army tank. The hotel's fire alarm goes off, I throw down the phone and dash downstairs to the street.

Ah yes, the Europa Hotel.

My last visit to Belfast was at the height of “the Troubles” in the nineteen-seventies. Back then I used to drive from London to Scotland for a week’s tour every summer. This particular year I decided to try something different from my usual patronage of B&Bs. One night I would stay in a top hotel and make up for it by sleeping in the back of the car the next night. That’s how I came to spend my one and only night at Edinburgh’s North British Hotel (now the Balmoral) for the then vast sum of £16. The next evening I slept in the car park at Prestwick seafront. I then drove down to Stranraer, left the car there and took the ferry over to Northern Ireland. I arrived in Belfast as darkness was falling. York Road Station was deserted. This was a night for the top hotel, not for wandering strange streets looking for a B&B. I took a taxi to the Europa.

An elderly employee showed me to my room.

”Well sir, you’ll notice that there’s two beds.”

”Er, yes.”

”Now it’s up to you sir, but I would sleep in that one.”

”And why’s that?”

”Well,” he replied. “When the bombs go off it’s the other bed that gets showered with glass.”

I followed his advice.

The next day I took a stroll up the Falls Road and had a Guinness in what appeared to be an IRA pub. I then went to the Shankhill Road and had a pint in a Protestant pub. After a walk round the city centre, with some relief I took the train back to Larne for the ferry. When I was sitting in the ship's cafeteria I noticed a man in his thirties looking at everyone in the room. I was the only unaccompanied young male. He came over and quickly showed me some official-looking ID. I was asked for my name, date and place of birth and the purpose of my journey. Years later there was a break-in at my place of employment and the police interviewed all the key-holders, including myself. Again, date and place of birth were required. One policeman was phoning the details of all of us back to his base. He leaned over to the other officer and said: “He’s clean, except he went to Belfast about ten years ago.”

Stop this rip-off

I'm certainly no fan of taxation and think that almost all government functions should be privatised immediately. Nevertheless, I can't help but be annoyed at the poor level of collection of council taxes in Scotland:
SCOTTISH councils failed to collect £131 million in council tax payments last year - a shortfall that will almost certainly force up bills next year.

Scottish Executive figures for collection rates revealed that Glasgow and Dundee were again the worst performers, failing to collect about 15 per cent of their council tax bills.

The collection rate varied from Glasgow’s 83.7 per cent to Orkney with 97.7 per cent.

Edinburgh collected the most council tax, £151 million, at a collection rate of 90 per cent, up £23 million on the 1998-9 figure.

I calculate that I am paying an extra £170 per year to bankroll the freeloaders - and that's in Edinburgh, one of the most more efficient councils. I note that Glasgow and Dundee are "again the worst performers." These cities contain a large proportion of council houses and I expect that many of the non-payers live in those tax-subsidised accommodations. They should be told: "Pay up or get out." That's the message I would get should I not pay the common service charges for the privately owned block in which I live.

Tuesday 2 September 2003

The running dogs of libertarianism

It seems that only Eastern German shepherd dogs are the real thing:
Heiko Münzer, who runs a dog training school, has produced a video in which he claims only those hounds born in the former East Germany are worthy of their pedigree.
Indeed. Those westerners just don't have the right stuff:
"The majority of western shepherd dogs are real sleepy-heads. Only a made-in-the-DDR shepherd has real courage, hardness, resilience." So where did eastern version’s Rambo instinct hail from? "Simple," he says. "In the DDR they were used by the people’s army, the police and as watchdogs. In the west they have over the years merely become house pets. Breeders have diluted their genes."
I present here a photograph of the Freedom and Whisky editorial team that was taken on Christmas morning. The dog blogger - second from the right - was born at the Edinburgh airport gift shop and therefore qualifies as an easterner. Have you seen a more fearsome canine?

Voting reforms

The statist Scottish Nationalists want to introduce yet another law:
Scots will be fined if they refuse to vote in future elections under plans being considered by the Scottish National Party.

A leaked copy of the Nationalists’ conference agenda reveals that the party is to examine the controversial option to address chronically low turnout at the polls in recent elections north of the Border.

At least one problem has been identified:
But making voting compulsory would prove highly controversial, not least among those who want their refusal to go to polling stations to serve as a protest about their disenchantment with politics.
And the solution:
The insider said: "There is a fair chance the motion will be passed because it’s just calling on our national assembly to make recommendations on the issue. It is legitimate to argue that voting should be compulsory as long as there is an opt-out for someone who wants to protest. That could mean voters would be given the chance to positively abstain."
That's all very well but what happens if the positive protesters actually "win" an election? Surely then the political position in question should not be filled. Let's take this line of thought further. Why can't we vote for the salary (if any) that the winner (if any) will receive?

Monday 1 September 2003

We're back in the nineteen-seventies

Today's Herald tells us which young people are expected to be on Britain's "Rich List" by 2020. The leading article Entrepreneurs of the future states that:
Scottish Executive ministers should pay attention to Mr George and his thoughts on entrepreneurship. He believes we need to depend less on foreign investment and rely more on internal ingenuity. That, in general terms, is also the thrust of executive policy. The faltering Scottish economy, apparently on the brink of recession and outperformed by the other regions and nations of the UK, is in its present condition partly because of an over-reliance on low-skill jobs in silicon valley that disappeared when foreign multinationals pulled out of Scotland to cut their costs.

The game has changed. Gordon Brown, the chancellor, is at the forefront of a campaign to encourage Scots to catch the entrepreneurial bug and start their own businesses. The strategy is yet to bear significant fruit.

And why hasn't Brown's "strategy" borne fruit? This is what the CBI has to say:
GROWING red tape and an "appallingly low" level of basic skills will undermine Britain’s competitiveness, the Confederation of British Industry warned today.

The business lobby group warned Britain’s economy could suffer by losing out to countries with lower cost bases.

And while that made the need for greater flexibility even more crucial, such flexibility was being stifled by a rising wave of regulations binding business.

The CBI said increases in regulation and taxation, as well as slow progress on improving transport was also threatening to harm the Britain’s economic competitiveness.

That just about says it all, doesn't it? The truth is that the Labour party (Old or New) hasn't got a clue about the world of business. The Labour-voting class depends on the continuation of red tape and taxation. I expect that Brown will bankrupt us just like any other Labour chancellor. Many CBI members had it coming to them of course: they wrongly thought that New Labour might be friendly towards business. Let them make amends by acknowledging that leaving the EU would be a useful start if we want to see massive cuts in regulations and taxation.

What do we want? Privatisation! When do we want it? Now!

Trust the Sunday Herald to view the continuing development of gated communities with its usual establishment leftism:
Research from Glasgow University’s department of urban studies has revealed that Britain is already home to hundreds of such housing developments that are also known as fortress neighbourhoods or security villages.
We are “warned” about “US-style gated villages”. They “threaten public services”. While some are “built with security in mind”, others, heaven forefend, are “a badge of status”. And planners find these communities to be “not desirable”.

Well, to hell with the planners. If the government refuses to implement proper policies to combat crime, productive people will do what they can to avoid the inevitable consequences. Note the comment from someone in the private sector whose income depends on providing what the market wants:

John Brown, director of DTZ residential selling agents, said secure design was now a crucial factor for housebuyers. “Fear is one of the greatest reasons for moving house at the moment,” he said. “It answers what is a growing social problem of unruly behaviour and anti social difficulty. They feel they work hard, contribute to society and they don’t want someone to scuff up their car.
Dr Rowland Atkinson is the taxpayer-financed academic who has been hired by the predator class to examine the "threatening" growth of these communities. Note his words:
Councils, as the planning authority, have often been slow to wake up to the implications, he argues. These include social concerns and also the possibility that residents of such developments may ultimately want to opt out of taxation for service such as waste- disposal, sewerage and even policing which they may be paying for themselves already.
Got it in one, Dr Atkinson! That's exactly what should happen. And, by the way, these residents are, not "may be", paying for services like policing. The same taxpayers have noticed that our streets are nowadays patrolled by the paramilitary wing of the Guardian newspaper. A privately financed police force might actually be more interested in catching criminals than enforcing political correctness.