Friday 31 December 2004

New Year's Honours List

And the top award goes to Michael Howard who has been made a Knight Commander of the Blairite Empire for services to the destruction of the Conservative Party. Sadly, a few of Mr Howard's colleagues aren't quite on message yet:
SENIOR members of the Conservative front-bench cast doubt yesterday on the party’s policy of supporting government plans for national identity cards.
And there are even a few reactionary holdouts on the tax question:
some front-benchers want Mr Howard to promise to cut taxes if he becomes prime minister
But don't worry about your job as Lecturer in Underwater Basket Weaving:
MICHAEL Howard will today play down hopes among some leading Tory politicians that he will fight next year’s general election on a platform of sweeping tax cuts.
Phew, that's a relief.

And Sir Michael won't have to worry about any more of those tiresome elections, will he? After next May's formalities we can look forward to the speedy implementation of the Civil Contingencies Act and the last Tory leader can enjoy a well-earned sinecure as Gauleiter of Lower Kent.

Numbersmen Nix Nationalism

It's not really the most shocking news of 2004 to read that the Conservatives are trying to re-connect with business:
The first of what will become a series of regular newsletters on business matters will be sent to the chief executives of the top 500 Scottish companies early in the New Year.
Nor is it much of a surprise to learn that the Tories are more popular (29%) among chartered accountants than are the other parties:
This compared with 9% for Labour, 4% for the Liberal Democrats and 1% for the SNP.
But surely the Nationalists can't be happy with those figures. I know that some effort has been made by the SNP to appeal to the business community, but it ain't working. As the party's own website proclaims:
The SNP is a democratic left-of-centre political party committed to Scottish Independence. It aims to create a just, caring and enterprising society by releasing Scotland's full potential as an independent nation in the mainstream of modern Europe.
The economies of most of those "left-of-centre" European countries are facing huge problems as a result of a failure to tackle high welfare spending and excessive business-strangling red tape. It's no wonder that accountants are wary of independence. Boring though it may sound, the SNP would be better served by labelling itself as middle-of-the-road.

A welcome Viking intervention

The economy of the Highlands is precarious at the best of times and I was pleased to read about this rescue:
A vital business in the Highlands, which supplies Scotland's salmon farming industry, has been saved from the threat of closure by Norwegian-owned Scottish Sea Farms.
I can't help wondering if the success of Norwegian-owned fishing companies has just a wee bit to do with that country's non-membership of the EU.

Wednesday 29 December 2004

This blog

For exceedingly geekish reasons to do with the XML feed I have had to go back over every single entry made over the past two and a bit years. There remains a little amount of work to complete before I am entirely happy with the historical postings but the end of this task is nigh. One thing I've learned is not to allow "the system" to generate file references for digital photographs unless you want a rather stylish photo of the sadly unsuccessful applicant for the position of BBC Chair:

to suddenly be replaced by one of a regimental demonstrator:

The life of a blogger can be lonely and sometimes one even wonders if it's all worthwhile. But looking back over the 1,281 entries since April 2002 makes me feel just a wee bit proud of what I've done. And so it's onward into a New Year with many more postings to follow.

The XML feed...

... is now back on.

Monday 27 December 2004

Are you reading this Miss Downie?

Miss Downie taught the English class at Ayr Academy and would be shocked to learn that I have won a poetry contest!

In the Scottish domestic politics section (extra merit award):

To save our NHS
I'd wager, at a guess
We should convert the numptorium
Into a new sanatorium.

David Farrer at Freedom and Whisky

Thanks to Arthur's Seat for this most welcome news.

Saturday 25 December 2004

Attention XML feed users

I am reformatting the titles on the blog to make them more user-friendly on Bloglines. Unfortunately the first 25 adjustments appeared on Bloglines as new postings a short while ago. I have switched off the XML feed for the time being until this operation is complete. Hopefully existing posts will not appear on Blogines once the XML is reactivated. Please ignore any sudden appearance of 1,000 or so "new" postings!

Merry Christmas

Thanks to Neil Craig for this

Friday 24 December 2004

Not my job, guv!

The First Minister has opened up a good old-fashioned demarcation dispute with his southern colleagues:
“I have one message for MPs and members of the House of Lords in the other direction—and that is to concentrate on their own affairs and allow this devolved Parliament to concentrate on ours. And we in this devolved Parliament will continue as a result to ensure that Scotland is a better place in 2005.”
I don't disagree with that in principle but it's a bit rich coming from our Jack. His own government has been making extraordinary high usage of Sewel Motions. And what on earth are they you may ask. The idea goes something like this:
"the devolution of legislative competence to the Scottish parliament does not affect the ability of Westminster to legislate for Scotland even in relation to devolved matters. Indeed, as paragraph 4.4 of the White Paper explained, we envisage that there could be instances where it would be more convenient for legislation on devolved matters to be passed by the United Kingdom Parliament. However, as happened in Northern Ireland earlier in the century, we would expect a convention to be established that Westminster would not normally legislate with regard to devolved matters in Scotland without the consent of the Scottish parliament.
The problem is that the Scottish parliament has decided to let Westminster legislate whenever, it seems, that the subject at hand is likely to get MSPs into trouble, as is noted here:
One of the most disappointing features of the current Scottish Parliament is its bastardised use of the Sewel Convention in order to avoid any hint of controversy.
I believe that I suggested before that MSPs' salaries should be cut each time a Sewel motion is adopted. Why should they receive full pay if they won't do their job?

In the meantime Jack McConnell has no business telling MPs to butt out of devolved matters if his own administration constantly runs away from controversy by passing the buck to London.

The Tory ID Card disaster

The 1952 Committee membership list can now be viewed here.

Thursday 23 December 2004

The armed blogger

This was taken when I was thinner, hairier, but no less militant.

Should the justice minister be reading, I would point out that my wife took the photograph in Utah, not Edinburgh.

Big brother

Recently I was sent an e-mail by Giles of Jacobs Room. My Hotmail account automatically stuck his message into my "spam" folder. I replied to Giles and speculated that perhaps the term "libertarian" or "bottle" or even "1952 Committee" had triggered off the spam alert.

Giles thinks it was more likely to have been his use of the salutation "Sir", as in "Dear Sir, I am the Finance Minister of Britain Nigeria and have an offer that you can't refuse..."

Tuesday 21 December 2004

Sad quote of the week

Anyone who wears a red suit and has a beard remarkably similar to Karl Marx's is not to be trusted. I start with this principle.
... Dr Gary North.

Ho! Ho! Ho!

Monday 20 December 2004

New links added today

Please take a look at The Welfare State We're in (and get the book), and The Barred Bard.

The brothers fall out

Westminster Labour doesn't think too much of its comrades in Holyrood:
In a devastating attack, Labour peer Lord Sewel said the Scottish Executive always seemed to be populated by the same few ministers who were constantly being rotated like "re-treads" because of a dearth of talent on the back-benches.
It's not only Lord Sewel who holds this opinion, as this quote demonstrates:
Another Labour politician, who did not want to be named, said: "The gap between the two parliaments is immense. I mean, who would you want running your economy, Gordon Brown or Tom McCabe?
The answer I would give to that question is: neither. And it may even be preferable for the economy to be "run" by Mr McCabe who would probably be less skilful at ripping off the productive people than Gordon Brown. The real point is that both Holyrood and Westminster do too much. Once we have reduced state activity to a more appropriate level full time politicians won't be necessary. On that happy day it will be possible for people with real jobs to spare a small amount of their time taking part in government.

Saturday 18 December 2004

"a backstabbing coward"

That's what Annabelle Ewing MP called the Defence Secretary earlier in the week when he announced the abolition of all of Scotland's regiments. Ms Ewing can be seen here marching along Princes Street today along with Conservative and Liberal Democrat colleagues:

A more moderate description of the target of today's march was this:

Judging by the march's reception from the Christmas shoppers neither Mr Hoon nor Mr Blair would have been welcome in Edinburgh today.

People of all ages took part in and watched the demonstration:

Some more photos:

And at the end of the march:

Can you... the Haggis in Glasgow?

Another objector...

... to the Tory ID error.

Don't DEL

Responding to my posting about the Scottish Parliament building, Stuart called for a separate Scottish Civil Service:
Whitehall continue to run Scotland in just the same distant, arrogant way that they have since the Treaty of Union was signed by our bunch of rogues.
Today I read that the Civil Service is preparing for the introduction of the Freedom of Information Act:
MILLIONS of e-mails to civil servants at the heart of government will be automatically wiped on Monday, 11 days before freedom of information laws come into force.

The Cabinet Office, which supports the Prime Minister and co-ordinates policy across government, has ruled that e-mails more than three months old must be deleted from December 20, The Times has learnt.

When ID cards were first being mooted Scottish Ministers insisted that the cards wouldn't be necessary for access to devolved services such as health. The reasoning was that the Executive was in favour of freedom and open government. I wonder what would happen if Scotland's rulers were to order our civil servants to disobey Whitehall orders and refrain from deleting e-mails.

This gentleman... sceptical about the global warming scam.

He knows what he is talking about - his name is Frost.

Friday 17 December 2004

That building again

I enjoyed seeing the inside of the new parliament building earlier this week but, like most people, I'm still extremely angry about the project's mismanagement. The official inquiry didn't lead to any meaningful action being taken against those responsible. Now, the inquiry's QC has spoken out:
Mr Campbell lambasted those who ran the project, from the civil servants to the politicians, accusing them all of failing to tackle any of the problems that came to plague the building.
I though that this observation was fascinating:
Mr Campbell was particularly scathing of the MSPs on the Holyrood Progress Group, which was set up four years ago to get the troubled project under control. He said: "Professional teams were all treated as menials by the Holyrood Progress Group. They were kept waiting, they were treated as office boys."
But that's what happens with any political form of management. The politicians lord it over the rest of us, professionals included. Private organisations can get away with treating experts (and customers) as "menials" or "office boys" for a while but pretty quickly lose credibility and market share and then go bust. The political machine just goes marching on.

Wednesday 15 December 2004


All I can say is: One out, all out!

(On second thoughts, I wonder if Michael Howard is now cursing himself for supporting ID cards. Will Blair now trump the Tories by appointing an anti-ID card Home Secretary?)

Where the money went

I paid my first visit to the new Parliament building last night and I must say that I was impressed with the interior. And so I should be: the front desk cost more than my flat! I liked the extensive use of wood and both the debating chamber and the committee rooms were spectacular. It's such a pity that what actually goes on in the building is so disappointing and both of the two taxi drivers I used had sound views on politicians, taxation and political correctness. The entrance area that contains the £88,000 desk seemed somewhat gloomy and reminded me of a Paris Metro station. Apparently, more lighting will be installed once the remaining "snagging" work is complete. One of my party asked a workman what he was doing. The reply: "I not know. I no speaka da English." Labour outsourcing was evident elsewhere: the waiting staff were Australian, as was the wine. When leaving, I spotted a cash machine and asked an MSP if it was the only one in the country that took money instead of giving it out.

Tuesday 14 December 2004

The Conservative Party - RIP

So, they've finally committed suicide:
The shadow cabinet revealed its support ahead of next week's Commons vote on a bill to introduce compulsory ID.
By an exquisite piece of timing I shall be able to confront the leader of the Scottish Tories at a meeting that he will be addressing this evening.

Like many libertarians I have despaired of the Conservatives for so long but remained a reluctant voter in the absence of any alternative. No longer: I've joined the 1952 Committee.

Monday 13 December 2004

There will be...

...little or no blogging today as I am visiting the Lake District.

Sunday 12 December 2004

Entering the modern world

I have now added an XML feed facility after reading this on Patrick Crozier's new blog :
The drawback is that there is a hard core of RSS refuseniks who I can’t read that way. No, I have to log onto their sites on the off chance that they’ve published an update. It is so 2003.
2003 indeed. I thought we were still in the 'sixties....

Actually, this XML feed thingy is very neat and will save me a lot of surfing time when reading other blogs. If readers wish to do this themselves, click on the "Sub Bloglines" button.

Friday 10 December 2004

I'm in the doghouse

I managed to get all the numbers to balance on Thursday. The debits equalled the credits and the results went to the Board on time. I was able to take a day off today. The problem was that I woke up at 3am and couldn't get back to sleep. And so it was that I found myself in the bloghouse at that unearthly hour and occupied myself by getting through the early morning's surfing well ahead of schedule. My friends down in London are still pontificating wisely. It seems that the proposition that the collapse of communism was a con remains not proven, although the jury's still out on that one. The gold market was still functioning somewhere on the planet.

By eight the porridge was brewing and at nine the Better Half was busy vacuuming the flat and rearranging our "miscellaneous stuff". I was engaged in composing epistles to various government departments and the like. And, guess what, I didn't feel like blogging anything at all.

The problem was that the Chairman of Freedom and Whisky PLC was also having a day off. Normally on Fridays he's busy performing his duties as Professor of Canine Epistemology at the University of Edinburgh. I've been summoned to a disciplinary hearing for dereliction of duty and I don't like the look of what the Chairman is reading:

Wednesday 8 December 2004

Your chance to win

Neighbouring Edinburgh blog Arthur's Seat is running its first annual Clerihew contest. Mr Seat has asked this interesting question:
Can we get something to rhyme with Numptorium?
Click on the link and enter.

Missing manners

So prisoners now have to be called "Mr". I wouldn't mind this so much if other government departments called me Mr Farrer instead of "Dave" or even "mate" as with the Inland Revenue yesterday. Considering that I had to speak to five of my other civil servants before I was put through to the correct one at the Revenue I didn't feel too matey with them anyway.

The coming chaos

I believe that roads should be privatised. In the presumable absence of road charities, the user would have to pay, directly or indirectly. I have some sympathy with local councils who are attempting to introduce charging systems although we can't expect government bureaucrats to come up with the kind of elegant solutions that would emerge in a free market for transport. It does seem rather perverse for the Edinburgh City Council to propose a cut in parking fees by 25% to offset road tolls. Surely the whole point of the tolls is to reduce traffic in the city centre. It looks as though we'll get a typical politically inspired mess with tolls and cheaper parking. Incidentally, I'm one of those who doesn't really think that Edinburgh's traffic is all that much to worry about - take a trip to London. Lack of parking is a major problem but one that's inevitable in a historic city like ours. I almost always use the excellent bus service instead of attempting to find a parking space.

The forthcoming referendum will ask us:

"The council’s preferred strategy includes congestion charging and increased transport investment funded by it. Do you support the council's preferred strategy?"
The Tories are campaigning against the tolls without - no surprise here - putting forward any free market alternatives. Suburban Tory car users may well vote against the proposals but so may some of us who don't believe that the Council will operate a sane system or that the resulting revenue (assuming that it doesn't run at a loss) will indeed be used to improve public transport.


Neil Craig had another letter published yesterday.

Monday 6 December 2004

The big picture

I recommend that readers take a regular look at the Discussion Form on The Daily Reckoning. I thought that this posting was especially interesting:
Date: December 05, 2004 04:44 AM
Author: Ricardo Smith (
Subject: I'd say Washington has "won" round 1.


I don't think we are even in round one yet. This is just noise for the fans, as the present champion shadow boxes with the upcoming pretender. All know that when China reaches critical mass with a well developed and broad middle class, and a well developed and broad financial system backed by enforceable rule of law, China's internal demand will become the engine of growth that pulls the world, including the USA. Trouble is, does that happen in 10 years, 25 years, 50 years?

For now, I think China's aims are short term shots across America's bows regarding Taiwan. They want it back before the Beijing Olympics in 2008. But the Taiwanese President wants to force a vote on independence in 2006. If they vote yes, China has publically and repeatedly said they will act militarily to stop it, no matter what the cost. President Hu got all he met on his S American tour at APEC to reaffirm their "one China" credentials. Bush did so kinda, but with his fingers crossed. He has to square a U-turn with his rhetoric of his first 2 years and at the same time not be seen as jumping to China's tune. China knows that even if the US remained miitarily uninvolved, they could freeze the PBOC's (and other's) assets in US bank's and at the Fed. That more than anything else drives China's shift from the dollar, I think, into buying foreign natural resource assets and into making dollar loans to countries around the world. Between now and mid 2006, I think they will try to sclae down dollar risk.

Even so, they still have about half a trillion dollars at risk, plus those held by semi autonomous HK, ($150 billion,I think.) Longer term, this is just the start of the 21st century scramble to lock up diminishing global natural resources. In over simple terms, the US over consumes natural resources and gets a free ride via the dollar. Increasingly,that is starting to rankle non Americans. Probably made slightly worse by the way this President dissipated the global goodwill following 9/11. The present fiat-dollar reserve system is too unstable to last long term. The questions are what replaces it. Does transition happen via a soft landing (cooperation,) or a hard landing (crisis/panic,) and how long the transition. At this point, just before President Bush starts his second term, early indications are that he seems to be flirting with an "in your face", approach. Sort of "the people gave me a mandate, God gave me the first", lets do it. Certainly if he wants to go for broke, there's nothing to stop him putting through the changes he wants. Right now he could almost get away with reinstituting segregation, but I think he'll settle for gutting abortion. Time will tell if he he goes for broke, and if he does, if that's good for the dollar or not.

Doubly stressed?

According to Dr Tony Mann I should be stressed out because my Christmas shopping wasn't completed by 12:30 on Saturday:
FOR anyone who has spent the past week or so sending their blood pressure soaring as they fight their way through the crowds of Christmas shoppers - searching frantically for that one special gift - there is some terrible news: it has been proved mathematically that come 12:30pm today any remaining fun and good cheer they may have felt will disappear
Actually, I'm a bit of an exception here: I reckon the cut-off point is more like 4pm on Christmas Eve. What stresses me right now is learning that our tax-funded universities investigate stuff like this.

Sunday 5 December 2004

Right and left

Thanks to Steve Coombes for this one. A Highland teacher has run into trouble over his firearms licence. He is also in trouble with his employers:
He was accused of making controversial comments in class on subjects like race, slavery and firearms and said that positive discrimination in favour of the disabled and ethnic minorities had gone too far.

John Bruce, a senior education officer with Highland Council, told the court: "What struck me about the whole affair was the number of views that resided in one corner of the political spectrum and their relentlessness.

"Never in my professional life have I come across such blatant propaganda and indoctrination. I was alarmed and shocked by the extent of it."

A large number of employees of Scotland's local councils, including teachers, are firmly in the left corner of the political spectrum. Does that concern Mr Bruce?

The solution of course is to privatise education and let parents decide what kind of schools they wish to patronise.

Tickets and cards

The Sunday Herald's Iain Macwhirter lets David Blunkett off the hook:
Questions may be raised over Blunkett’s gift of train tickets to his lover and her use of the ministerial car. His civil servants interviewing Mrs Quinn probably broke a ministerial code. Blunkett certainly shouldn’t have been running an alternative immigration service in his office, and if it emerges that he really did intervene in the visa application of Mrs Quinn’s nanny then he is toast. But I can’t believe he would have been stupid enough so to do. The other offences are “de minimis’’, as they say in Whitehall.

I’m not saying it is all right for ministers to bend the rules, but there has to be a limit to the rigour with which essentially petty rules are enforced.

That's not good enough. In other walks of life fiddling expenses can and does lead to losing one's job. I listened to Any Answers on the car radio yesterday. A local councillor phoned in to point out that he would have been called up in front of the standards committee had he signed off a mistress's train ticket. In all likelihood he would have been removed as a councillor. Unsurprisingly, the BBC's leftist Jonathan Dimbleby couldn't understand why the councillor was so upset.

There was a good letter in yesterday's Herald that asked whether an ID card system would have prevented the issue of the controversial free rail ticket. I somehow think that ID cards will be aimed at the likes of "ordinary" people and not cabinet ministers and their friends.

Put not your trust in politicians

Thanks to Stuart Dickson for drawing my attention to this story.

The Economist proclaims that:

The financial world, it sometimes seems, is broadly divided into those who believe in gold as the ultimate currency and those who don’t. In the latter camp are most economists, the most famous of whom, John Maynard Keynes, described gold as a “barbarous relic”.
I suppose that statement is correct although I can't help pointing out that most of those "economists" have failed to provide any logical or consistent explanation of their subject, especially monetary economics. For that you need to consult these guys who are firmly on the other side of the divide.

The Economist continues:

It used to be that gold bugs touted the yellow metal’s credentials as a hedge against inflation. But the link was anyway pretty feeble, except for currencies with hyperinflation. And though consumer prices have risen a bit this year, it would be hard to make the case that inflation is about to roar anywhere in the developed world.
But the Economist is wrong: the link is not feeble. I wrote this a couple of years ago:
Since 1913, the pound has lost 98% of its value and the dollar has declined by 95%. As long as we have a fiat currency with money being created out of thin air, inflation will continue. The Austrians showed that sound money can only exist if it is 100% based on a commodity, probably gold or silver.
I don't think that losing all but 2% of your money in less than a century is unimportant. An annual inflation of 3% would wipe out half of your savings in just twenty-three years. It's no mystery why we have a pension crisis. Consider this quote:
"Regardless of the dollar price involved, one ounce of gold would purchase a good-quality man's suit at the conclusion of the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt, and today."
Peter A. Burshre
I recall reading somewhere that an ounce of gold would also buy you a good-quality toga in Roman times. That's consistency. I'd rather trust gold and silver than any politician. Let's see, it's about twenty centuries since the Roman regime was at its peak. Will the Economist sell me a 2,000-year subscription at today's sterling rates?

Thursday 2 December 2004

Winter arrives

Four years ago Scotland's first First Minister slipped on an icy pavement outside his official residence at Bute House in Charlotte Square. Sadly, Donald Dewar died from the resulting injury.

This morning saw Edinburgh's first real blast of winter. People were scraping frost from their windscreens and the ground appeared to be slippery. My wife warned me to be careful when walking to work. All was well as I proceeded from Haymarket, through Shandwick Place and into Queensferry Street. I went through the alleyway and on to the north side of Charlotte Square. Then I saw the ice. Someone had chosen this morning of all days to wash down the steps of, yes, Bute House and both the steps and the pavement outside were highly slippery. What are we to make of this? Of all the buildings in all the streets this one was dangerous. Are the civil servants incompetent or are they trying to get rid of another First Minister?

Wednesday 1 December 2004

Is it possible...

...that this cultural masterpiece has been created without the aid of the Culture Minister? Surely not.

A simple explanation

To some, it's a bit of a mystery: Why are the "big names" not selling?
Famous publishers are paying vast sums for so-called "big books" that wind up very quickly in the remainder shops. Meanwhile, the best-seller lists are topped by perfectly-formed, unprepossessing volumes from small independent firms that can hardly believe their good fortune
Surely the reasons are obvious, and they're not to do with the size of the publisher. Consider who's not selling:
Rageh Omaar - pinko BBC reporter

Jon Snow - pinko Channel 4 newsreader

Greg Dyke - pinko BBC boss (deposed)

And who is selling:
Lynne Truss - who offers first aid to victims of the NuLab education system

Jordan - a creation that no government could conceivably produce

Alexander McCall Smith - creator of The Number 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency whose heroine is a paragon of the libertarian virtues, among which is an uncanny ability to catch criminals (often pinkos)

The market has spoken. We don't want to read about pinkos or their worldview.

Tuesday 30 November 2004


I wish all readers a happy St Andrew's Day.

Another perspective

Last week I was hoping for the best for the people of Ukraine. That still stands of course but it's interesting to read this article that looks at the situation from the point of view of those who have been portrayed as the "bad guys":
The East and the South of the Ukraine are sick and tired of subsidizing Western regions of the country by contributing more than 70% of the budgetary income. All sea ports, mines, steel plants, machine building plants, aviation and space industries are in the East and in the South. All day today people in those regions (90% Russian speaking) rallied for autonomy and even for joining Russia. This scenario is totally spontaneous and is not welcome by President Putin. But things can really get out of control.

Monday 29 November 2004

A sinner repents

In yesterday's Scotland on Sunday Gerald Warner was on fine form:
How can supposedly intelligent observers imagine New Labour was ever anything more than a cosmetic label, or that the Blair régime is a conservative administration? The Great Charlatan will leave only one legacy: an exponential increase in the scope and power of the state. If that is a conservative programme, then Burke, Disraeli, Churchill, Kirk, Hayek and Thatcher must all have got it wrong.
It's certainly true to say that Mr Blair has conned a lot of voters who should have known better. The purpose of the Labour party is to tax and regulate - Blair's just a bit cleverer at disguising this than some of his predecessors. Warner concludes by saying:
The crass notion that Labour has stolen the Tories’ clothes does not stand up to any factual scrutiny. It is the Tories who have lost their sense of identity and their nerve. They have six months to recover both and save us from a one-party socialist state.
None of the above is surprising coming as it does from the pen of Gerald Warner who is one of Scotland's most outspoken conservative writers. But this article was a big surprise. In many ways Iain Macwhirter is the left wing equivalent of Gerald Warner. Every week in the Herald - our very own tartanised Guardian - we can rely on Iain to give us the bog-standard leftist outlook on the week's events. To paraphrase: it's Tories, Bad and Labour (or someone like them), Good.

Now some leftists are intelligent enough to realise than the proposed introduction of ID cards is a bad idea, albeit one that follows logically from the very same leftists' own worldview. Mr Macwhirter (like Muriel Grey) doesn't like ID cards. Good for him (and her). Echoing so many other socialists, Mr Macwhirter is moved to write:

In five years’ time it may be too late to stop Britain becoming a nastier version of Britain under Margaret Thatcher.
No surprise there. But then I almost fell off my seat when I got to the next sentence:
I never thought I’d ever say this, but she was more protective of fundamental rights than Blair. Nearly blown up by the IRA in 1984, she didn’t introduce ID cards or imprisonment without trial.
No, indeed she didn't. And I would guess that Mrs Thatcher opposes ID cards now. Sure, Mrs T wasn't perfect: she failed to slash the welfare state and gave far too much away to the EU. But she did have a feeling for British liberties and it is rather wonderful to observe that a few of the leftist commentariat are beginning to understand that.

Friday 26 November 2004

Give this a red light

Are you sitting comfortably in your pram? Here comes nanny again:
SHOPPERS want "traffic light" logos on the front of food packets to help them make healthy choices, according to research published yesterday.
Reading further, I note that the "research" was carried out by the government's own food agency. They're hardly going to recommend that nothing needs to be done and that their own jobs are pointless, are they? And for those who think that big business supports capitalism, consider this:
The food industry, however, is wary of such a scheme, claiming it is too simplistic.
"Simplistic"! The correct response is: "It's none of the government's goddamn business. If there's a demand for this kind of thing we'll make loads of money providing it voluntarily."

Incidentally, I wonder if those researchers asked the proper question which is: "Do you want "traffic lights" printed on food labels bearing in mind the resulting extra cost you will have to pay for your groceries?"

Andrew Duffin...

... has drawn my attention to this:
HOSPITAL waiting lists in Scotland have hit an all-time high and people are waiting longer for treatment, new figures showed yesterday.
Andrew asks: "if they will ever learn?" No, probably not.

We read that:

The statistics made grim reading for Jack McConnell, who vowed not to be "bound by ideology" in his quest to modernise the NHS in Scotland by using private contractors.
But it's Mr McConnell's "ideology" that's the reason why we have an NHS in the first place. Note what the boss of the doctors' trade union has to say:
Dr Peter Terry, the chairman of the BMA in Scotland, said: "We are increasingly concerned by the commitment that the Scottish Executive is now making to long-term contracts with private sector providers.

"While this may appear attractive to politicians, it is not the solution. Diverting investment from the NHS to the private sector will do little to solve the problems of the NHS in the long term."

The Scottish NHS is stuffed full with "investment" and still doesn't work properly. Scotland's health service enjoys Europe's highest level of per-capita spending and has one of the worst outcomes. Privatise it now, I say.

Wednesday 24 November 2004

Best wishes...

... to the people of Ukraine. Here's a bloglink.

(Update: more news here and here.)

My career as a programmer

Way back in the olden days men would use pencils to enter numbers in columns on lined paper and, with the aid of black magic, get the debits to equal the credits, thus producing a bona-fide set of accounts. As time went on young ladies would be hired to operate new-fangled devices known as "computers". Mere males were not allowed to touch these machines. We were allowed to stare at the resulting printouts.

Eventually my then boss decided that the two of us should attend a course on computing and get one over the ladies by learning how to program the infernal things. After a week we had a basic knowledge of BASIC and shortly afterwards I was bold enough to answer the optional computing question in a statistics exam. I wrote a program that purported to calculate the standard deviation - not a skill that I've ever needed since I must say. My program had about a dozen lines of code.

And so it was with great interest that I read in the December issue of Aircraft Illustrated magazine an article about the latest upgrade to the RAF's Nimrod maritime reconnaissance aircraft. This plane is a souped-up version of the Comet that made its first flight way back in 1949. I don't suppose that the first Comet carried much in the way of computing power but the new Nimrod more than makes up for that: its on-board Tactical Command System utilises 5,400,000,000 lines of coding. What the hell it all does is a mystery to me but I suspect that it's not good news if you're on a hostile Russian/Iranian/North Korean/French (Oops!) submarine somewhere off the west coast of Lewis.

It's reassuring to know that some of our taxes are spent on protecting us against foreign foes although previous versions of the Nimrod have been known to go ever so slightly over budget. As for myself, twelve lines of code were enough - I'm quite comfortable with the occasional use of Excel and lots of lined paper.

And yet they still vote for them

Scots gave the world:
#The hypodermic syringe
# Anaesthesia
# Morphine
# Antiseptics
# Insulin
# Penicillin
# Interferon
# The thermometer
# Ante-natal clinics
That's quite an impressive list don't you think? So it would follow that our health service would be world class, wouldn't it? Not quite:
... a baby boy born south of the Border can expect to live to 77. In Scotland, the life expectancy is 73. In Glasgow, it's 69.1 years. Let's put that into perspective. Scotland's largest city has lower life expectancy than Lebanon, the Gaza Strip, Bosnia & Herzegovina and North Korea. For a rich country such as Scotland, that's a remarkable achievement.
Fraser Nelson continues:
And it's a political achievement. Lives are long in areas of Scotland where people run their own lives: it's Scots living in government-run (and government-built) housing schemes where the life expectancy is, quite literally, closer to that of Baghdad than Bristol.
This is an outrageous state of affairs, and yet Glasgow continues to vote Labour, signing its own death warrant. I'm not as enamoured as Mr Nelson of the Blair "reforms" in England but even those crumbs are unacceptable to the Scottish ruling class.


This letter criticises the fact that a Scottish video games company:
was to release its John F Kennedy assassination video on 22 November.
I have to agree that such a release on the anniversary of the murder of the 35th US President is in poor taste. But what are we to make of this news:
A small passenger plane on its way to Hobby Airport to pick up former President Bush crashed along Beltway 8 this morning, killing all three crewmembers on board.
Another US President (number 41), also in Texas and also on 22nd November. It's enough to make you believe in conspiracies.

Monday 22 November 2004

This is what's wrong with Britain

I've just received the latest copy of the journal of a UK-wide professional body. Not that I'm hunting, but, as one does, I had a glance at the job adverts. As well as one role in Paris, there's a job in each of: York, Coventry, Suffolk, Northants, Lincoln and Nottinghamshire. There are another sixteen vacancies in the Home Counties and twenty-nine in London. So every single job advertised in the UK is in the southern half of the country and 88% are in London or its surrounding counties. I simply don't believe that this is the result of market forces. It's something to do with the way we're governed.

A tale of two cities

Sydney and Melbourne; Toronto and Montreal; Liverpool and Manchester. City rivalry is a common phenomenon and we certainly have our share of it here in Scotland.

Glasgow and Edinburgh are very different cities that all too often find it difficult to cooperate. There's endless discussion about airport policy, improving the rail linkages and getting together on joint economic development.

And the rivalry can be more personal. I recall the story of the Glaswegian actor who was filming in Edinburgh for a few weeks. No one could work out where he went for his lunch each day. Eventually, a fellow artiste followed him only to discover that his colleague was taking the train through to Glasgow to eat a sandwich in George Square - just outside the station - and then return to Edinburgh, the rival city in which time spent had to be minimised.

We all know the differences. Glasgow is the slightly run-down, former industrial powerhouse that is now inhabited by Labour-voting welfare recipients with some old-time trade unionists still employed in the few remaining factories. Edinburgh, on the other hand, is an architectural wonder, full of tourists, wealthy students from the Home Counties, finance industry executives and many, many professionals. Walk round the New Town and have a look at all those brass plates: solicitors, advocates, accountants, architects, planners, charities, consulates and even a few advertising agencies. Edinburgh, with its very high proportion of privately educated children is almost certainly Britain's most middle class city and appears to be a bastion of a financially self-reliant bourgeoisie. Especially compared to Glasgow. Except, of course, I don't think that this is true.

When we look behind those New Town brass plates we don't actually find quite as much "capitalistic" activity as you may think. A very large proportion of Edinburgh's professionals are funded, one-way or another, by the taxpayer. A lot of those "charities" are really arms of local or national government in another guise. There's an awful lot of work done by Edinburgh's professionals on behalf of the public sector, both directly and indirectly. This isn't particularly the result of parliamentary devolution - most of the public sector activities that I'm thinking of have always been based here in Edinburgh as a result of the existing administrative devolution. Democratic devolution is merely an added extra, albeit an expensive one.

Of course I believe that almost all of the things I've mentioned should be run and financed privately, if at all. Given that they are run by the state I do agree that they should have separate Scottish operations - we are a nation with its own legal and cultural differences from the rest of the UK. But we should recognise that much of Edinburgh's wealth is not earned in the free market - it comes from the pockets of taxpayers, including those who live in Glasgow.

So could it not be the case that Edinburgh is the welfare queen of Scottish cities rather than its west coast rival? If we abolished the ninety-odd per cent of unnecessary government spending, which city would be harder hit? Yes, Glasgow's vast army of "incapacitated" middle-aged males would have to find jobs rather quickly. But a low-tax Glasgow could well become a vibrant centre of successful entrepreneurship - it has been in the past. And without all that government money sloshing about, just what would Edinburgh's professionals get up to? I'm only asking.

Sunday 21 November 2004

Look at this

Regular reader Neil Craig has started his own blog.

Saturday 20 November 2004

And Andrew Gray...

... asks why the government doesn't ban drinking as well as smoking.

I give it ten years or so.

Gillian Bowditch makes this observation:

Whether you applaud or abhor the government’s decision to crack down on obesity and on smoking in public places, the fact that Big Alcohol has been left to police itself is intriguing.
It looks like the normally sensible Ms Bowditch wants the political classes to "do something" about alcohol. She realises why nothing's happened yet:
Ultimately, the biggest stumbling block to tackling alcohol abuse is perhaps the fact that so many of us enjoy a drink. While less than 30 per cent of us smoke and only 20 per cent of us are obese, more than 90 per cent of us - in other words, 40 million British adults - drink.
Whatever happens at Westminster it seems inevitable that we will have to endure some sort of left wing regime here in Edinburgh for many, many years. The urge to ban and regulate will not go away, so why not go for an alcohol ban? Outrageous, you will be saying. Criminalise whisky production? Close all of our pubs? Well, we could wipe out the evil tourist industry once-and-for-all, thus ending the need for Scots to be "servile" to visitors who've probably got too much money anyway. The horrible truth is that plenty of our politicians do think that way. Mark my words - if alcohol isn't banned within 10 years, the campaign will certainly have started.

There's a letter...

... in today's Scotsman from F&W reader Andrew Duffin.

Wednesday 17 November 2004

Where to start the cuts

The boom in local council "jobs" continues:
Official statistics from the Scottish Executive showed that council staff, both full- and part-time, have increased by nearly 10,000 in the space of a year to 315,414. Much of the increase was said by councils to be due to the recruitment of front-line and support staff in areas like social work and educational support.
Cutting any of those jobs at random probably wouldn't do much harm but why not start with some of the "education" bureaucrats? Far from supporting learning, some of those folk are actively discouraging it:
MINISTERS have warned local authorities not to ignore guidelines on home education amid claims that some councils are obstructing parents’ attempts to remove their children from school, The Scotsman can reveal.
If the ministers are serious (which I doubt), why not cut off the money?

The perils of fiat money

Thanks to Free Republic for this one;
GREENSBURG, Pennsylvania (AP) -- Charges have been dropped against a woman who paid for clothes with a fake $200 bill that featured President Bush's picture and the serial number DUBYA4U2001.

Westmoreland County prosecutors dropped all charges Friday against Deborah L. Trautwine, 51, after she paid the store in real currency.

Trautwine wasn't aware that the bill wasn't actual legal tender, said her attorney, Harry Smail Jr.

A clerk at a Fashion Bug clothing store also apparently was fooled by the funny money.

She gave Trautwine $100.58 in change following an August transaction.

There is no $200 denomination bill, even without Bush's picture on it.

The back of the phony bill depicted the White House with several signs erected on the front lawn, including those reading "We Like Broccoli" and "USA Deserves A Tax Cut."

That broccoli sign should have been a giveaway. Surely the President wouldn't want to upset his father

Monday 15 November 2004

Another boring week in Scottish politics

Everyone's heard about the recent attack on Scottish property rights. I can't really say that I was surprised that smoking in "public places" (mainly private actually) is to be banned. After all, banning things is what turns MSPs on and how they must have revelled in last week's worldwide publicity over the onward march of the Scottish Nanny. But even I couldn't have foreseen what would happen next.

On the same day as voting to ban smoking in a whole range of private premises a Liberal Democrat MSP was caught smoking a cigar in a no smoking zone inside the hallowed portals of the Scottish parliament building itself. In an almost Clintonesque explanation, Mr Purvis said:

"It wasn't in the office, it was out of a window in the MSP block."
Aha! Well that's all right then, but how the Scottish people, smokers and non-smokers alike, laughed.

Next we heard the extraordinary news that Tommy Sheridan was no longer leader of the Scottish Socialists. I am finding it difficult to keep up with the changing rumours about whether the Great Prole resigned or was fired by the other comrades but it does seem that he is to spend more time with his family. On to the next story.

Almost all of the 129 MSPs, together with assorted hacks (but sadly not yours truly), spent Thursday evening at the Scottish Politician of the Year event at the Prestonfield House hotel in Edinburgh. No doubt strong drink was consumed, and nothing wrong with that. At around two in the morning a curtain caught fire in the hotel's foyer. Shortly afterwards another curtain was on fire in another room. Then we read this extraordinary news item:

Lord Watson of Invergowrie, the MSP for Glasgow Cathcart, was arrested following claims that a curtain was set on fire at the five-star Prestonfield House Hotel during a parliamentary awards ceremony attended by the First Minister and a host of Scottish politicians.

I have no idea of whether or not Watson did set fire to the curtains - and where was Holmes when he's needed, one asks. Is it not possible that Watson crept away from the crowd to have a quick smoke behind the curtains? Smoking's not yet illegal in bars but it wouldn't look too good to light up in front of the press a few days after voting to ban the very same activity. Perhaps Mike had a little accident with his matches. As the Sun would put it, you couldn't make it up.

I am sure that the whole Scottish nation is giving thanks that our lawmakers didn't perish in some terrible conflagration. This providential deliverance must be properly commemorated in years to come. We already celebrate Guy Fawkes Night on the 5th of November. Scotland must hold its own devolved bonfire night on November 12th each year. We can all let off fireworks (blue and white of course) and burn effigies of the failed Prestonfield pyrotechnician. Whoever he or she may turn out to be.

Saturday 13 November 2004

Dunfermline man adopts Enron accounting

I wonder why the government doesn't need to use proper accounting techniques:
Billions of pounds of Government liabilities from private finance initiatives will no longer be listed on a single balance sheet, it emerged yesterday.
I was pleased to note that Tory and LibDem spokesmen are criticising this change in presentation. This quote sums things up nicely:
David Smith, an economist at Willems de Broe, said the move was part of a "remarkable degradation" in the data that is available to judge the Government's financial position. "It is hard to see who benefits from the change, apart from Treasury ministers with something to hide," he said.
A Treasury mouthpiece "declined to comment on the reasons behind the move". I guess he wants to keep his job.

Government accounts should be prepared using the same rigorous procedures that the law imposes on the private sector. Any more of this and I'll start to think that Gordon Brown is angling for a job with the Scottish Executive.

Thursday 11 November 2004

They're getting serious now

Now that smoking's been dealt with (unless you're in prison of course), our politicians can turn their attention to more important matters. Like selecting a national song or a state bird. How on earth could we survive without these people?

F&W reader's letter

I note that Neil Craig had a letter published in the Scotsman yesterday.

Monday 8 November 2004

I'm PC Plod and I'm not reporting for duty

It seems that the police have worked out that a smoking ban in so-called public places will create a few difficulties. And, amazingly, the cops have told the politicians that they won't enforce any such ban:
SENIOR police officers have told ministers they would not be prepared to enforce the Scottish Executive’s planned ban on smoking in public places.

The warning opens the way for new teams of "smoking police" employed by local authorities or health boards, who will target pubs and clubs once a ban is imposed.

This is excellent news and perhaps a first sign that senior police officers realise that the public wants them to concentrate on catching criminals instead of becoming the storm troopers for an illiberal nanny state.

Last year I described the British police as "the paramilitary wing of the Guardian newspaper." That was written back in the days when the once proud voice of Manchester liberalism had degenerated into being the mouthpiece of the social-working classes, a group that increasingly seemed to include our police forces.

Now, all has changed. The Guardian has won President Bush a famous victory, as noted by Rod Liddle:

The Guardian directly delivered Clark County for Bush. And hence Ohio for Bush. And further hence, America for Bush.

So by extension, you can also blame The Guardian for the bombardment of Falluja, the invasion of Iran, the invasion of Syria, thousands of Islamofascist nutters blowing themselves up everywhere from Baghdad to Bank Tube station, dirty bombs and anthrax in Canary Wharf and Times Square, a swift retaliatory and punitive response from the USA on the central mosque in Mecca and world war three.

Yes indeed. And, if the police continue to be closet Guardian readers, it's a new type of paper they're looking at. Having overthrown the elitist Massachusetts Democrat it must only be a matter of time before the Guardian helps rid us of our own elitist, the illiberal Lanarkshire Labourite. I'm sure that most policemen will agree. They know it makes sense.


Those guys over on Free Republic sure know how to have fun with Photoshop.

Saturday 6 November 2004

Mentioning the War

On Wednesday lunchtime I was having a quiet pint in my local. A group of German football fans came in and sat at the next table. They were the advance guard for the UEFA game against Heart of Midlothian the following evening. I was reading the Scotsman and they were reading the Daily Express (I think). On the front page of their paper was a headline along the lines of “Queen forced to dine in Hitler’s bunker”. This caused considerable amusement. Then one of the Germans pointed to the poppy at the top of the front page of his paper and then over to the poppies on sale at the bar. One of them turned to me and asked, “Why are so many people wearing those red flowers?” I replied that they were to commemorate British soldiers who had died in wars. The Germans nodded and one of them went over to buy another round. When he returned I was pleased to note that he was wearing a poppy.

The only downside was the result the next night…

Friday 5 November 2004

The new political geography

We've all seen the red and blue maps of the various states. (Red = Republican, blue = Democrat.)

It's interesting to see an equivalent map showing the vote by county:

Some people think that this is the outcome:

Libertarians and elections

Stuart has criticised libertarians for not taking part in elections:
"Libertarians" are disnonourable, they are not democrats: they shun elections.
I think that it is useful to have a look at the very first publication of the Libertarian Alliance, the UK's leading libertarian organisation. Here is part of what was written way back in 1979:
IDEAS CHANGE SLOWLY Although ideas sometimes change slightly as a direct result of the political cut-and-thrust, fundamental ideas usually change slowly. There are entrenched assumptions which cannot be challenged by anyone who wishes to be politically influential. Politicians of a reflective disposition will often admit that a certain policy has great merits, but will add that it is “politically impossible”, because it goes against ruling opinions inherited from the past.

BUT IDEAS CHANGE Yet these fundamental ideas do change. In the Wealth of Nations Smith ridiculed the possibility that free trade could ever be introduced in Britain. A few decades later, it substantially had been, and the Wealth of Nations was largely responsible. Other examples include the rapid spread of Marxism in Europe before the First World War, and in recent years the sudden collapse of the monolithic Keynesian consensus. In both these cases, preparatory developments in earlier decades, which might have seemed quite inconsequential to many, were vital.

As a result of such changes, the parameters of politics shift. What was politically possible becomes politically impossible, and what was politically impossible may even become impossible to resist.

HOW IDEAS CHANGE It is a mistake to think that these changes occur by means of a gradual diffusion of slight influences affecting the mass of people uniformly. Free trade, Marxism and monetarism did not gain influence because millions of ordinary people found them day by day that bit more appealing. They spread because they were adopted by small groups of people who turned out to be influential propagandists. These ideas were picked up by individuals atypical of the mass, variously known as “intellectuals”, “propagandists” or “purveyors of second-hand ideas”. After decades of these ideas being discussed by little coteries in unprepossessing journals and grubby meeting halls, barely noticed by the surounding world and without any great effect upon it, the ideas were disseminated more widely and in due course played their part in the rise and fall of empires.

Within the community of intellectuals there is the same hierarchial relationship as within society at large: the groundling intellectuals tardily accept the ideas advanced earlier by higher-order intellectuals.

Very roughly, the ideas which make the running in current social policy are the ideas embraced by the lower-order intellectuals twenty years earlier, and by the higher-order intellectuals fifty years earlier. There are many important exceptions and qualifications to this picture, but it is much more accurate than the theory that millions of people spontaneously change their ideas, a bit at a time, in a direction which appeals to them. Very few people would accept that latter theory if stated in those words, but they implicitly accept it when they come to the task of persuading the world to implement whatever particular policies they hold dear. They ask themselves how all those people out there in the street can be directly worked upon in order to imbue them with the desired outlook and assumptions. But that is an adman’s question, the wrong question, and if it is asked, the correct answer (that there is no way it can be done) will be unnecessarily dispiriting.

The use of the term “intellectuals” above should not be misinterpreted. The intellectuals or propagandists who matter are not necessarily very intelligent or well-qualified. A few may happen to be academics, but most will not be.

MASS PUBLICY NOT THE AIM What all this means in concrete terms is that a libertarian propaganda group primarily aims to recruit a number (small by necessity) of committed and knowledgeable adherents to libertarian doctrine. The group should not be much concerned with the direct results of publicityseeking efforts or of campaigning for particular political measures.

All of the group’s activities should be judged in the light of long-term propaganda. The group will seek some media attention and will effortlessly receive more, and will agitate and campaign on particular issues. It will be a welcome bonus if any of these efforts are intrinsically successful, but it will be no great tragedy if they have no effect on legislation or on mass opinion. Their main value is in recruiting the few potential libertarian propagandists, and in helping to educate those already recruited.

The recruiting of one committed and knowledgeable libertarian activist is of immensely more value than thousands of pages of publicity in the national press or thousands of hours of TV exposure. Those pages and hours of media coverage might result in the obtaining of several recruits. But recruits to what? If it be recruits to an organisation for getting further pages and hours of coverage, it is futile, if not harmful.

Shallow free market sympathisers sometimes come to us and say: “Why don’t you do something?” The answer is that we are doing something, invariably far more even in crude man-hours than the speaker, and he is welcome to help us in what we are doing, provided he understands and sympathizes with it. What he has in mind, however, is some attention- getting campaign. In other words he wants us to allocate time and energy we now allocate to doing something important (higherorder, long-term propaganda) and allocate it to doing something ephemeral and silly.

And in conclusion:
NO NEED FOR A LINE Among matters controversial within the libertarian movement, on which the group does not at this stage need to have a settled “line” are: the comparative merits of various economic methodologies (e.g. Austrian or Chicago), the ethical bases of libertarianism (e.g. natural rights or utilitarianism), foreign policy in the current world situation (e.g. unilateral disarmament or support for NATO), the political organization of a libertarian society (anarchism or minimal statism), the merits of particular productive techniques (e.g. nuclear generation of electricity), abortion and the rights of children. These are debated vigorously within the group, and it may be that in years to come some of the issues will be so clarified that a definite line is indicated. Or it may be that when the group is much bigger there will be room for more independent groups taking a definite stand on such questions, in addition to continuing the LA as the broad “alliance”.

There is also a wide area of propaganda strategy on which no uniform line is necessary. For example, most members of the Libertarian Alliance are not members or supporters of any political party. There are a few LA members in each of several political parties. So far as we can judge, most are opposed to forming a libertarian political party, but a few would favour that. There is continuing debate about the merits of these strategies, and it would be quite inappropriate for the LA as an organization to rule which was the best. There are similar differences on the wisdom of working within various pressure groups, such as Amnesty International or the National Council for Civil Liberties.

For obvious historical reasons there are far more libertarians in the US than elsewhere and some of them do indeed take part in elections. Have a look at what happened on Tuesday:
Badnarik's total of 379,229 votes continued to increase as late vote counts trickled in. Trailing behind were the Constitution Party's Michael Peroutka, with 130,285 votes, and the Green Party's David Cobb, with 105,808. [All vote totals from USA Today's web site.] Badnarik's name appeared on 48 state ballots, plus D.C., compared to 35 for Peroutka and 27 for Cobb.
So some libertarians do contest elections - even for the US presidency - and perform better than the Greens. In Britain, most of us chose to follow the strategy laid out in the LA's document that I have quoted from.

A warm welcome to:

Arthur's Seat, another Edinburgh blog.

Just saying no

I note that the canny folk from North East England have rejected the proposed regional assembly:
The total number of people voting against the plans was 696,519 (78%), while 197,310 (22%) voted in favour. Official figures showed 47.8% of the region's 1.9 million voters took part in the all-postal ballot.
I was pleasantly surprised by the size of the "no" majority and the reasonable turnout. There wasn't really any similarity to the Scottish devolution referendum: Scotland has a clearly identifiable national culture and well-defined territory together with its own legal system. That's not the case in the English regions where the very boundaries are often the invention of the Whitehall bureaucratic mind.

This appeared in the Scotsman earlier in the week:

The scandal over the spiralling cost of the building and its numerous delays is the only aspect of Scottish devolution that many voters in the north-east know about - and they do not want to make the same mistakes in their region.

One Labour MP confirmed that the problems of the Holyrood building had been raised by many voters over the last few weeks of campaigning, and the only way it could be countered was to insist that no new buildings would be constructed to house the North-east Assembly.

But when we had our referendum in Scotland no one expected that we would be made to pay for a new parliament building - the Royal High School was ready and waiting on Calton Hill. Why then would the people of north-east England not have a sneaking suspicion that they would be lumbered with one too?

Monday 1 November 2004

And about time too

I think that this is good news, don't you?
Dozens of "witches" executed in a Scottish town more than 400 years ago are to be pardoned to mark Halloween.

Prestonpans, in East Lothian, will grant the pardons under ancient feudal powers which are about to disappear.

Descendants and namesakes of the 81 people executed are expected to attend Sunday's ceremony.

More than 3,500 Scots, mainly women, were executed during the Reformation, for crimes such as owning a black cat and brewing up home-made remedies

It's probably just as well that I came into the world in the 20th Century. Although not a woman, I was born in Scotland. I once owned a cat and I have indeed brewed home-made ginger beer. On top of that, there's a broomstick in the kitchen and I've even worked in Prestonpans for a few weeks. A narrow escape I think.

If any of you are still around in 400 years you may be able to attend another ceremony in East Lothian. Perhaps there will be a pardon for our political parties.

For the Conservatives - for never actually conserving anything.

For the Liberal Democrats - for misuse of the word "liberal".

For the Scottish Nationalists - for alienating anyone who may favour independence but not socialism.

For the Labour Party - for being the party of dependency at the expense of those who actually perform useful labour.

A great deal of confusion in a nation

There's a letter today from the anti-property rights group Action on Smoking and Health. As always, these people show absolutely no understanding of the concept of private property and why it is so important for the continuance of civilisation:
ASH Scotland believes that the time has come for decisive action to be taken to improve our countries’ poor health record and end smoking in all enclosed public places.
No. No No. A place does not become "public" merely because its owner allows other people to enter it. My house is not "public" when I allow the meter man to check on my electricity usage. Decisions on whether or not smoking should be allowed should be made by the relevant property owners. If they get it wrong, they'll go out of business.

The letter from ASH claims that the Scottish Executive's consultation was fair despite what seems to me to be valid criticism from the licensed trade:

The SLTA’s claim is based on the fact that it requested, along with Tennants and Belhaven breweries, for 210,000 forms to put out in its members’ pubs. This request for so many forms naturally took the Executive a couple of weeks to fulfil.
It looks clear that the consultation process was flawed. I must say that I did read the form on the Executive's website but I don't imagine for a moment that many non-political junkies bothered to do so. I didn't bother to leave any comment as I have little doubt that the politicians will do what they want whatever the public says. Just like what will happen when we are asked for our views on the EU Constitution.

Sunday 31 October 2004

An appeal

The Adam Smith Institute is upgrading its website. Please send them a donation to help with the cost. Details here.

Saturday 30 October 2004

Friday night viewing

I suppose that most of you will have seen the tape.

But what does it mean? One suggestion was that OBL has been in US captivity for ages and was forced to make the tape to scare people into voting for the President. Kind of like the moon landings being filmed in a studio in the Nevada desert.

I liked the theory that it wasn't really Osama but Karl Rove wearing a false beard.

This one is my favourite:

Tuesday 26 October 2004

Education again

The Scotsman reports today on a new publication from the Policy Institute:
CONTROL of Scotland’s schools should be removed from local councils and handed to head teachers, according to a think-tank report published yesterday.
And how would this be achieved?
The Policy Institute report also called for parents to be given state-funded vouchers which would entitle their sons and daughters to attend the school of their choice.
I certainly agree that education vouchers would be a useful innovation in Scotland. Nevertheless, I do understand why many American libertarians oppose vouchers but believe that, on balance, they would be beneficial over here. However, I think that the report's author is quite wrong when he states that:
"It is not the type of ownership - state, private or charitable - that is necessarily important so much as the degree of managerial independence exercised by the head and the board," Mr Gerstenberg, the former headmaster of George Watson’s school in Edinburgh, added.
A school will never have a proper degree of independence if it remains under state ownership. It's one thing for the state to issue vouchers for use in privately controlled schools but quite another for the state to actually operate its own schools. If we are to have education vouchers let's introduce them in conjunction with the privatisation of all educational establishments.

Monday 25 October 2004

Left or right: it ain't necessarily so

I was pleased to see this item in yesterday's Sunday Times:
IF you think you know whether your politics are right-wing or left-wing, think again. An online quiz that rates where participants stand in the political spectrum is proving a revelation in Britain and America.
The quiz is well-known in the US but this is first time I've seen it mentioned in the mainstream press in Britain.

You can find out where you stand in the political spectrum by going here.

The US election is too close to call

Or is it? Dr Steven LaTulippe expects that Kerry will win, albeit narrowly. His interesting article concludes:
I am going out on a limb here and predicting a narrow Kerry win. His election will be the dirtiest and sleaziest victory in the history of American politics. It will be fraught with so many voting irregularities that it will make America a laughing-stock around the world. This will also make a mockery of our claims that we seek to "bring democracy" to other lands…since we won’t even be able to run a credible election right here. His presidency will be wounded from the start, and will go down hill from there as he is beset by serious problems in both foreign and domestic affairs. From this hideous mess may well rise a future opportunity to truly reform our broken system by forcing the American people to realize the necessity for fundamental change
Dr LaTulippe anticipates some positives outcomes for libertarians:

Silver Lining #1: A repudiation of the neocons.

Silver Lining #2: A crippled Kerry presidency with a Republican Congress will result in gridlock.

Silver Lining #3: Discrediting the current two-party system.

Silver Lining #4: Spread the blame.

Silver Lining #6: No President Hillary.

Silver Lining #7: First Lady Teresa.

For some reason "Silver Lining no. 5" doesn't exist. The one that interests me most is no. 4.

Note this:

Simultaneously, we are heading into an economic crisis. Our budget deficit has reached the ½ trillion mark, our total debt is skyrocketing, and our monthly trade deficit figures are horrific. These trends are not sustainable. Eventually, something will have to give. Mostly likely, we will face a currency crisis which will impoverish Americans for years to come. And compounding this is the impending burst of the Fed-orchestrated real estate bubble. It would be a disaster for America if the blame for all of this was heaped solely onto the Republicans and George W. Bush. This would allow a neo-FDR to rise from the wreckage of another Herbert Hoover and begin a new round of statist socialism that might well finish off any hope of restoring our Republic.
The economies of America and Europe are running on overdraft. (Incidentally, why isn't Alvin Hall Chancellor of the Exchequer?) At some stage - probably not too far ahead - the sh*t will hit the fan and I agree with the Ohio doctor that it's probably best that the financial collapse occurs under a left-of-centre government. Perhaps, then, a Kerry victory would be good news. Of course this analysis should result in my voting Labour at the next British election, but there are some things that I just can't do.

Saturday 23 October 2004

Scots for W

I came across a fascinating article in the Wall Street Journal suggesting that the "Scots-Irish" may be the group that re-elects President Bush:
The Scots-Irish are derived from a mass migration from Northern Ireland in the 1700s, when the Calvinist "Ulster Scots" decided they'd had enough of fighting Anglican England's battles against Irish Catholics. One group settled initially in New Hampshire, spilling over into modern-day Vermont and Maine. The overwhelming majority--95%--migrated to the Appalachians in a series of frontier communities that stretched from Pennsylvania to northern Alabama and Georgia. They eventually became the dominant culture of the South and much of the Midwest.

True American-style democracy had its origins in this culture. Its values emanated from the Scottish Kirk, which had thrown out the top-down hierarchy of the Catholic Church and replaced it with governing councils made up of ordinary citizens. This mix of fundamentalist religion and social populism grew from a people who for 16 centuries had been tested through constant rebellions against centralized authority. The Scots who headed into the feuds of 17th-century Ulster, and then into the backlands of the American frontier, hardened further into a radicalism that proclaimed that no man had a duty to obey a government if its edicts violated his moral conscience.

When will Scots rebel against centralised authority here at home?

Friday 22 October 2004

Freedom and Whisky a stupid name

According to this gentleman.

Is it time to string 'em up?

Bill Jamieson writes in today's Scotsman about the report into MPs' expenses. Here are the details (PDF file).

Mr Jamieson expresses these concerns:

The first is index-linked pensions. There is no reason, of course, why MPs should not enjoy some measure of employer contribution and full tax relief on payments into a defined contribution personal or group scheme. But index-linked pensions, unless fully funded by contributions, are hugely costly to the taxpayer and work to blind MPs to the depth of the problems now faced by millions of voters over pension prospects.

The second is the claims and allowances of around £100,000 each paid to the four Sinn Fein MPs, including Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, who have yet to make an appearance in the Commons and who make no secret of their contempt for the House other than, it seems, the expenses system. This is truly scandalous.

The third relates to accommodation claims. MPs can claim up to £20,902 a year for accommodation in London. Clearly, a Scottish, Welsh or English country MP who has a family house in the constituency needs a base in the capital. But with the boom in London property values in recent years, the present system has been open to abuse.

I thoroughly agree with each of these points. Readers may have noticed my particular obsession with the unfairness of state employees enjoying lavish pension arrangements that are almost unobtainable by those who must finance them. Yet again, I ask what the Tories are going to do should they be re-elected. Even here in Scotland the majority do not work for the state. Why doesn't Michael Howard announce that will end this exploitation of his natural supporters on his first day in office by taking away the pension privileges of government workers?

The situation is even more outrageous than I had thought (2nd letter).

Scottish Borders Council is in the process of giving early retirement to many of its senior officers. They are not redundant; most if not all will be replaced.

Each one is to be credited with the years of service they have yet to serve. This is costing council-tax payers millions of pounds.

The council claims it is common practice in public service.

This state of affairs won't continue forever. There will either be a total financial collapse or some sort of revolution.

Wednesday 20 October 2004

"Higher" education

On a very busy day here in the West Wing of the Bloghouse I must thank Andrew Duffin for drawing my attention to this article by the excellent Fraser Nelson of the Scotsman. Mr Nelson is calling for a mass introduction of education vouchers in Scotland along the lines of what has happened in Sweden, a country normally praised by our leftist establishment. The only thing I have to add is in connection with this statement:
This is a political decision: the money is already there to buy a far better system. In Glasgow, for example, it costs £4,800 a year to educate a child at secondary school: Hutcheson’s Grammar School charges £6,500 a year. The difference is £30 a week - something any working-class parent would pay, given the chance.
If most of Scotland's schools were privatised the dramatic extension of market share would bring about a large reduction in costs. It is very likely that fees per capita would be considerably less than £6,500 a year. The "working-class parent" would probably have to find nothing like £30 a week. Besides that, an excellent article and as someone who is the proud holder of five Highers (English, Maths, Science, French and History) I do rather fancy the idea of them pushing the A-level into the dustbin of history. David Starkey please note!

Monday 18 October 2004

One law for some...

It looks as though Westminster will lean on the Scottish Parliament to reduce the impact of the "right to roam" legislation:
SCOTLAND could get its first trespass law under emergency rules being considered to protect royal palaces.

Under the devolution settlement, the Home Office has no responsibility for either Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh or Balmoral in Deeside.

But a department official revealed that the Home Office is "in negotiations" with the Scottish Executive about the possibility of the proposed law applying in and around the Scottish palaces.

Of course the Queen should be protected but shouldn't all property owners be able to stop trespassing? I rather think that Her Majesty would agree.

Scotland "not important" - English television presenter

The well-known historian David Starkey has caused a bit of a row over his claim that Scotland is "not important". Remarks of this sort are a little tedious but there is a great deal of truth in this:
Your own political elite don’t want independence because they love swanning around as Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Although the Prime Minister was born here I don't think that he sees himself as Scottish. On the other hand Gordon Brown and people like Robin Cook, John Reid and Michael Martin are certainly Scots. I think that Dr Starkey is correct: Scotland won't choose to become independent until its leading politicians and a sizable proportion of the business community support the idea. Whether it's a good idea is quite another matter.

Saturday 16 October 2004

My visit to Texas

I was unable to blog for a few days earlier this week because I had to make an unexpected visit to the Lone Star State. It was indeed a great privilege to be invited to the gracious home of President George W Bush. You may be wondering why I was so honoured (or should that be honored?). I am a distant relative of a prominent resident of the Western White House, who says:
My blood line can be traced all the way back to Farquhar the Great, lapdog of famed Scotsman Robert the Bruce!
Farquhar, Farrer - obviously we are related.

If you click on the floorplan of the attic you will note the rather impressive Smith & Wesson Home War Games Arena in which the President explained to me how Scotland could solve its burgeoning crime problem.

My wife and I were able to "visit with" the President and First Lady in the tasteful Jack Daniels Northwest Sitting Room, which is to be found on the Second Floor. Sadly, there wasn't time to also see the Adolph Coors Northeast Sitting Room. As this was a family visit, the President thought it best not to show me the Hooters Breakfast Nook (First Floor). What a pity.

The President has asked me to convey his best wishes to the people of Scotland and looks forward to inviting First Minister McConnell to Crawford. As well as examining the modest AK-47 Appreciation Room (Second Floor), Jack will love the Halliburton Den & Smoking Lounge where he can enjoy a cigar without upsetting his pesky Liberal (sic) pardners in the Scottish Executive.

The President asked me to let Scots know about the new United States Department of Faith, something so obviously needed back in the Old Country. With such an organisation over here Rangers and Celtic fans will walk joyfully hand in hand into the sunset.

All in all, we had a wonderful trip and are so looking forward to our next visit. As long as the Blairs aren't there at the same time of course.

Friday 15 October 2004

It's the economy, stupid

Much has been made recently of Scotland's falling population. I have no problem at all with people coming here from other countries to work and of course many millions are already free to move to Scotland from elsewhere in the EU, but don't. But surely the problem is not a lack of immigrants but a low-growth economy. Why else would so many young qualified Scots seek career opportunities elsewhere? Fortunately, most non-political opinion seems to understand that the solution is the adoption of pro-business policies.

I am afraid that David Land is wrong when he writes:

I fear that party politics could be the enemy of action. No political party gains by having Scotland fail to provide opportunities for future generations. Scotland deserves better.
The Labour Party does indeed benefit from our stagnant economy. The creation of hundreds of thousands of public sector employees who enjoy above-average pay and benefits gives Labour an almost unbeatable electoral advantage. It is the deadweight of those state employees that drags down the productive sector thus causing the low growth in our economy. That's why we can't expect Labour to fix things.

Shaking and stirring the media

As befits a son of Edinburgh, Sean Connery was the real James Bond. I was very disappointed to read that the great man has called for state control of the Scottish media:
In a staggering attempt to settle old scores, the veteran actor launched a bitter attack on the Scottish media, calling on MSPs to pass a law to prevent negative attacks on the parliament. Sir Sean let rip during a BBC radio interview, insisting they only way to deal with the press was to "sort them out".
If Sean wants a pro-nationalist voice in the Scottish media he should start his own newspaper, not call for censorship. With Ursula Andress on page 3 how could he go wrong?

Do you earn 80 grand?

I noticed a letter in the Herald yesterday from a Dr Ian McKee. The name seemed familiar and then I remembered that a gentleman of that name was SNP candidate in my constituency at the last Scottish parliamentary elections. He remains an SNP candidate.

Dr McKee was writing about the pension crisis that has been in the news so much this week.

According to the good doctor:

"... the state pension was over 20% of average earnings in the eighties but has now fallen to little more than 5%."
The state pension is close to £4,000 PA. That would mean that "average earnings" are around £80,000. Somehow I don't think so. Then I had a look at the chart in Wednesday's Herald. The 5% figure is a forecast for the year 2060 or thereabouts. Presumably the paper is expecting a continuation of growth in earnings ahead of increases in the state pension. The chart actually shows that the state pension is around 15% of average earnings at the present time, not 5%. That fits in with an average wage of something like £26,000 - a bit nearer the mark than £80K!

If politicians want to gain a bit more respect it would help if they had a basic understanding of facts and figures.

Monday 11 October 2004

North and South

I enjoyed living in London and in the unlikely event of winning the lottery (it helps to buy a ticket) I would consider the purchase of a modest pied-a-terre in Kensington. In due course I would be able to partake of a dram or two with the constituency's next MP.

The only time I ever met Sir Malcolm was in the Edinburgh branch of Borders where I suggested to the former Foreign Secretary that he buy a copy of Reason magazine. During our brief conversation the temporarily resting politician congratulated me on moving from the Great Wen to Edinburgh and assured me that the quality of life was far preferable here to that possible down south. I have to say that Sir Malcolm is correct and my visits to the Royal Borough would be occasional. After all, when a man is tired of Edinburgh, he is tired of life.

How then is one to explain this snippet from the Sunday Times?

Incidentally, it’s a brave company that announces its new worldwide headquarters are to be in Aberdeen. Before I am berated for central belt parochialism, let me point out that I am only reflecting the views of professional headhunters — if RBS Group has difficulty in attracting the right people to Scotland, how much harder is First going to have to work to bring them to Aberdeen?
Why would the Royal Bank have difficulty in persuading the "right people" to come to work at its Edinburgh headquarters? It's now the world's fifth largest bank and there must be a wealth of career opportunities in such an organisation. I suspect that it's because ambitious executives worry about moving themselves and their families to Scotland in case the job doesn't work out. There are indeed several other large financial institutions here, but nothing like as many as in London. Having alternative career options is important. Imagine how much more of a problem this is in less successful "provincial" cities than Edinburgh.

Some time ago I wrote about the unnatural dominance of London over the rest of Britain:

I remain convinced that British national life (think of our transport "system") is distorted by the dominance of the southeast. This in turn is largely the result of more than 40% of the economy being under state control and being almost entirely run from one end of a long and narrow country. My own preference is for that 40% to be reduced to more like 4%. Then it wouldn't matter too much where the capital was located - just like Switzerland in its good old days. If we don't want to fire all of those public servants we should move the capital to the other end of the country. Sir Humphrey will enjoy living in Easterhouse.
Far more than our transport system suffers from the London distortion: it also sucks the life out of the country's other cities. Incidentally, would an American ever describe Chicago as being in "the provinces"? Does Munich look up to Berlin?

I recognise that Malcolm Rifkind's post-election loyalties should be to his London constituency. Hopefully though he won't forget the city that gave him his start in politics and Parliament. We need politicians who will begin the necessary decentralisation of the UK. Sir Malcolm and his party should work towards a situation in which careers can be successfully pursued in all parts of the country. And yes, that includes Aberdeen.

Sunday 10 October 2004

A coffee I don't tend to think of Glasgow as being a centre of political correctnessof colour please...

but the disease has apparently reached the Dear Green Place:
THE world is going mad in its abuse of political correctness. Staff at the coffee shop in the Mitchell Library in Glasgow last week allegedly refused to serve a customer who had ordered a 'black coffee', claiming that it was a racist phrase - he would only get his cuppa if he used the terminology 'coffee without milk'. I wonder how he managed to ask for white sugar?
I suppose that we should remember that the Mitchell is rather close to Glasgow's West End, an area that is just a wee bit more pretentious than elsewhere in the city. Now if they were to ban orange juice and green salad, I would fully understand.

Politician gets honest job!

Scotland's first minister has decided to become an entrepreneur:
JACK McConnell is preparing to open privately-run ‘mini-hospitals’ across Scotland in an effort to cut the country’s 112,000-strong waiting list for treatment.
Isn't this good news? Instead of living the glamorous life of a statesman who gets to meet the Queen and Sean Connery McConnell is to join the ranks of the real wealth creators by investing in hospitals.

Silly me! Let's read on:

The First Minister has ordered his new health minister, Andy Kerr, to examine the case for building dedicated Diagnostic and Treatment Centres (DTCs).
Private healthcare providers are being called in to run more than 20 such centres in England, alongside others run by the NHS, with the aim of carrying out 250,000 operations by next year. McConnell has so far held back from similar plans in Scotland, prompting claims that he has failed to grasp reform. But following last week’s reshuffle he has told Kerr to lay the ground for a ‘Scottish version’ of the scheme.
Oh dear. Our Jack isn't going to join the business world after all. Someone else will be expected to do the hard work, risking their capital and reputation while the first minister gets to "open" the new hospitals.