Saturday 31 January 2004


Over on Brian's Culture Blog there is a post entitled "The joy of cropping". This has inspired me to play around with some of the photographs I took a couple of weeks ago when I was test driving my new Canon A80 on a trip to Ayrshire.

The first photo is of the Isle of Arran taken from the seafront at Prestwick. The sky has been cropped.

Here is another shot with the sky cropped, this one showing the village of Mauchline with Arran about 30 miles in the distance. You can tell from the shadow pattern on Arran that this photo was taken a few hours earlier than the one above.

The third photograph is of the Wallace Tower in Ayr High Street.

Friday 30 January 2004

Who speaks for freedom?

Scotland's first "cannabis cafe" has now opened and the inevitable has happened:
Three people were arrested for drugs offences at Scotland’s first cannabis cafe, police said last night.

The arrest of the two men and a woman for possession of cannabis at the Purple Haze Cafe coincided with the reclassification of the drug, from class B to class C, which came into force yesterday.

If the Conservatives had any gumption, they would be explaining that governments have no right to tell people what they can and can't do with their own bodies. As well as being right, such a stance might actually get the Tories some support from the younger generation as well as from the many older folk who realise that the war on drugs is a total nonsense. But no, what we get is this:
Annabel Goldie, the Tories’ justice spokeswoman, said the government’s mixed messages had given a green light to those who think that they are above the law.
Unsurprisingly, the full force of the law was ready for this dire threat to civilisation:
He (a police spokesman) added that officers had been maintaining a presence outside the cafe and had warned customers they could be arrested if seen with any illegal substances.
Well, it's less hassle than catching burglars I suppose.

To answer my question at the top of this post, the Scottish Socialists are speaking for freedom!

Last night, an SSP spokesman said police should not be "wasting their time" prosecuting cannabis users. "We have to stop criminalising people for what after all is a victimless crime," he said.
A victimless crime indeed. It's such a pity that the comrades can't follow the logic of this argument, which inevitably leads to a demand for laissez-faire capitalism. Perhaps I should send the SSP a copy of Socialism by Ludwig von Mises. The dust jacket of this wonderful book announces:
Here is at once the purest, intellectually most powerful and most uncompromising statement of the extreme anti-collectivist case.
It's quite simple really: Our bodies should be free, our commerce should be free, our lives should be free. As long as we don't initiate force or fraud we should be free to do what we damn well want.

Tuesday 27 January 2004

How to make friends and influence people

Tourism is just about our biggest industry. It's good to know that our public "service" workers have the right attitude:
The Rev Peter Hadden thought he was being a Good Samaritan by trying to help an American family whose car was being towed away on George Street.

But he was appalled when an Enforcer allegedly told him to "f*** off" and mind his own business. Now the 54-year-old minister, who was not wearing his dog collar at the time of the incident, is preparing to make an official complaint about the Enforcer’s behaviour and swearing.

He said today: "I feel his actions came very close to starting a fight, and he has done this city’s reputation abroad no good at all.


And despite the pay-and-display sticker on the window, Enforcers called for the tow-truck to remove the car.

To make matters worse, the hire car contained their passports and tickets for a flight home that evening.

How very differently things are done elsewhere. About 20 years ago I was driving a rented car along a motorway in Italy. This was at a time when the country was plagued with a series of terrorist bombings. Suddenly, all the traffic was diverted on to a slip road at the end of which was a police checkpoint. These guys did not appear to be your friendly neighbourhood cops: they were heavily armed and roughly ordered each driver to get out for frisking and questioning. An officer yelled at me in Italian. I replied, "Non Italiano, Io Scozzesi", or words to that effect. The cop broke into a large grin and replied, "Aha, Io Napolitano", gave me a big hug and sent me on my way without further ado!

Parking wardens have a difficult job to do but some leeway should be given to tourists, especially those with planes to catch.

Monday 26 January 2004

Soon now?

Some readers may remember that I have plans to open a bottle of champagne on the day that the Great Leader of All Progressive Humanity is removed from power. Could it be tomorrow?

We are ready:

Another day, another contradiction

Back in July I wrote about the contradictions introduced by the Land Reform legislation:
Directors of Network Rail are understandably concerned about the possibility of facing charges of corporate manslaughter in the event of someone being killed or injured while wandering on the railway. Meanwhile, the Scottish government has legislated in favour of a right to trespass roam, including, presumably, across railway tracks.
The problem hasn't gone away:
The escalating argument over the threatened closure of hundreds of public footpaths across railway lines has landed on ministers’ desks after a clash between a government environmental agency and a rail company.

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and Network Rail have fallen out over the advice walkers should be given on crossing railways.

The Railway is maintaining its stance:
Network Rail’s position, however, was backed by Her Majesty’s Railway Inspectorate (HMRI), part of the government’s Health and Safety Executive. “There is no ‘right to roam’ on railway lines, including over private level crossings,” said a spokeswoman.
I wonder if that is the legal position in Scotland. It probably is the case in England. Of course, there shouldn't be any "right to roam" over anyone's property. The Marxists used to talk about the "contradictions" of capitalism. There aren't any of course, but Scottish socialism is a veritable showcase of contradictions.

The Mid Scotland and Fife Question

Here's another letter about the dreadful common fisheries policy.

Tory MSP Ted Brocklebank writes that:

At least the Tories have now pledged to take Britain out of the CFP when it returns to government at Westminster. The SNP‘s similar policy is unachievable, given that it will never be in power at Westminster and that its goal of an independent Scotland seems unlikely to happen.
That's all very well Mr Brocklebank, but please answer this question:
What happens when the EU says "No"? If the only way to repatriate our fishing grounds is to leave the EU, will you favour that policy?
The voters would like to know.

Strewth: Am I an Aussie?

The only time I ever went to Stonehaven was many, many years ago. I have vague memories of being in a pub by the harbour watching Scotland playing Brazil in the World Cup. Scotland probably did not win.

Now, Stonehaven's hit the news big time:

It has gone down in history as the town that invented the deep-fried Mars bar and the fountain pen, but now it appears a windswept Scottish coastal town is no less than the cradle of civilisation.

Scientists have been left slack-jawed with wonder at the discovery that life as we know it began in Stonehaven after a fossil picked up in the town last year was confirmed as the oldest air-breathing creature ever discovered.

The millipede is less than 1cm long but lived around 420 million years ago, when Aberdeenshire was part of a giant continent spanning the equator.

On my visit to the town I noticed that Stonehaven contains lots of sandstone buildings, as its name would indicate and indeed just like most places in Scotland. But those stones are almost as old as Sir Michael Jagger:
At this time (when the millipede was alive and kicking), Stonehaven is believed to have been part of a giant continent known as Larussia or the Old Red Sandstone Continent, which incorporated parts of modern-day Europe, Siberia and North America.
In the printed version of Scotland on Sunday we learn that:
When the fossil was created 420 million years ago the two land areas that eventually make up Britain lay south of the equator!
Does that mean that we Scots are really Australians? Maybe only those of us who've been around as long as the millipede. Pass me a tin of Fosters.

Friday 23 January 2004

China Express Card: Don't Leave Texas Without It

President Bush is supposed to be some kind of conservative. Well, if so, he's not a fiscally prudent one.

Surely the President is less of a spendthrift than the previous Democrat incumbent.

Not so:

The conservative Club for Growth estimates that the Bush administration has increased domestic discretionary spending by 8.2 percent, compared with 2.5 percent during the Clinton years.
It's not going to be easy to sort out the ballooning deficit:
Indeed, balancing the budget by 2013 would require steps as drastic as raising individual and corporate income taxes by 27 percent, eliminating Medicare entirely, or cutting Social Security benefits by 60 percent, according to the Committee for Economic Development, the Concord Coalition, and the Center of Budget and Policy Priorities
Asian Central banks are funding much of the deficit, with an increasing amount of this lending coming from China. Oil producers are starting to talk about being paid in Euros or even gold. The dollar is falling.

Many individuals max out on their credit cards. Politicians are not immune from this behaviour. I have a nasty feeling that this will all end in tears.

Thursday 22 January 2004

Freeman and Whisky

And about time too!

Sir Sean Connery, the best-known Freeman of the City of Edinburgh, has signed up to market our national drink:

After years of being wooed by various distillers, Scotland’s most famous actor has agreed to front a major campaign for Dewar’s, the world’s fourth-largest whisky brand.

It is the first time Sir Sean has agreed to promote his country’s most illustrious export, with the deal reported to have cost the brand more than $1 million.

Sir Sean played hard to get:
Neil Boyd, the global brand director of the Aberfeldy-based company, ... said it had taken 18 months of negotiations to make the promotion happen.
I have no doubt that Dewar's will find the $1m to be money well-spent, but hope that 007 got every cent from them that he could.

Our shameful government

Back on this posting I wrote that:
The only legitimate function of the state is to protect citizens against those who initiate force or fraud. That means the provision of the armed services to protect us from external aggressors, the operation of local police forces to protect us from domestic aggressors, and a court system to try those accused of aggression and punish those found guilty.
Some libertarians go further and argue that no functions of the state are "legitimate", including defence services. I have ordered my copy of Hans-Hermann Hoppe's new book, which examines this position:
With eleven chapters by top libertarian scholars on all aspects of defense, this book edited by Hans-Hermann Hoppe represents an ambitious attempt to extend the idea of free enterprise to the provision of security services. It argues that "national defense" as provided by government is a myth not unlike the myth of socialism itself. Defense services are more viably privatized and replaced by the market provision of security.
I do find myself to be very impressed with the arguments that I have read so far in favour of a completely Anarcho-Capitalist society, but it's fair to say that it's not about to occur in the immediate future! In the meantime defence services are provided by the state, and it's making a lousy job of it:
Yesterday, Lieutenant Colonel James Cowan, the commanding officer of the Black Watch, one of the regiments in the thick of the fighting, told The Scotsman that the shortage of equipment in the Gulf was due to the government’s unwillingness to commit to war until all possible alternatives had been explored, while the regiment’s quartermaster during the conflict criticised the shortage of nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) protection suits and equipment.

Despite government assertions that the purpose of the war was to remove Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, British units were sent to the Gulf without enough NBC protection suits to go round, without equipment to decontaminate vehicles after an attack, and with unusable detection equipment intended to provide early warning of an attack.

While both men said it was important to keep complaints about other equipment shortages in perspective, they said that future problems could be avoided by a return to a system where essential items were held in stockpiles, rather than being purchased at the last minute.

Other senior military figures went even further, calling the failure to supply soldiers with adequate NBC gear "criminal".

Yes, "criminal" is the correct word. Whatever else emerges from the Hutton Report, it is obvious that Messrs Blair and Hoon have been utterly derelict in their duty to our military personnel. If for no other reason, Blair and Hoon should go, hanging their heads in shame.

Tuesday 20 January 2004

Cull these parasites now

This is a truly shocking story:
ALMOST a third of all city council staff retiring from work do so because of ill-health, costing the local authority millions of pounds.

An average of 30 per cent of retirements from the city council over the past seven years were on medical grounds compared to just two per cent in the private sector.

Just why do local council workers retire early at a rate that is fifteen times that in the private sector? Naturally, the trade unions have an answer:
Union leaders claim the figures are a damning indictment of the pressures being put on workers because of understaffing.
Utter rubbish. The "pressures" in the public sector bear no resemblance to those faced by private businesses. How many in the public sector have to worry about keeping customers satisfied every hour of every day, knowing that failure in this task means that you're out of a job? How many government accountants lie awake at night worrying whether they'll be able to meet the payroll next day? Been there, done that, got the T-shirt.

It's nonsense for the unions to speak of "shortage of staff and resource problems" - Scotland's public sector is one of the most bloated in the western world.

We are told that we need "more rigorous (medical) examinations", "inquiries" and, wait for it, "health and safety and well-being strategies". No we don't. We need a huge clear out of staff employed by Edinburgh City Council. Anything useful that they do should be privatised.

It could be worse though. The national figure for council medical retirals is 55%!

Monday 19 January 2004

New links added

I have added a couple of new links today.

First, there is now a link to Storm ID, Edinburgh's leading web design company.

Then I have enabled readers to see the latest gold information from Kitco, which is one of the world’s premier retailers of precious metals.

The chart purports to give the price of gold in terms of US Dollars but what it really does is to show the price of Federal Reserve Notes in terms of real money. See here for further explanations!

Media news

This printout has appeared on the noticeboard at Ryrie's Bar in Edinburgh:

Some MPs are more equal than others

I'm not a huge fan of the Scottish National Party - they would have more chance of persuading us on the case for independence if they didn't assume that all right-thinking folk must be, well, left-thinking. But on this matter I support them:
The SNP and Welsh Nationalist Plaid Cymru have joined forces to demand the same access to the Hutton Report as the main opposition parties at Westminster.

Last week, it emerged that Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, will receive a copy of the report 24 hours before it is made public.

The Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats attacked the move after they were told they would receive it only six hours before its publication.

Now the SNP and Plaid Cymru have written to the Prime Minister demanding the same access to the Hutton Report as the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.

Of course the Nationalists should see the Hutton Report at the same time as the Tories and LibDems. Needless to say I don't think that Tony Blair should see a copy before any opposition members.

Sunday 18 January 2004

They do things differently in Italy

I have almost finished reading The Dark Heart of Italy by British writer Tobias Jones who moved to Italy a few years ago. Mr Jones has a lot to say about Italian Television. Of the world total of 2,500 terrestrial TV channels, an extraordinary 640 are Italian. They are somewhat different to ours. In the period after the 9/11 attacks:
Television, as usual, was the first to register the subtle changes. Dancing troupes began wearing military outfits: khaki bikinis or mini-skirts made up of stars-and-stripes. In another toe-curling show, a group of girls danced dolefully in burqas before the band struck up Yankee Doodle and they stripped off to the all-Italian sequin underwear.
I wonder if Mr Kilroy-Silk speaks Italian ......

Friday 16 January 2004

You speak out

I note that F & W readers continue to be well represented in the letters page of the Scotsman

Yesterday, there was another letter from Andrew Duffin and today sees one from Neil Craig. (the third letter down)

I was also pleased to read this letter which recommends "a touch of market economics" (Adam Smith style) to resolve the university funding crisis. Then there's another letter from the redoubtable Dr Flood in Dumfries who demolishes a recent attempt to explain away the failure of some of Scotland's poorest performing schools.

And what about Scotland?

The 2004 edition of the Heritage Foundation's Index of Economic Freedom has now been published. At the top and bottom of the charts we find these countries:
The Most Free:

Hong Kong (1st)
Singapore (2nd)
New Zealand (3rd)
Luxembourg (4th)
Ireland (5th)
Estonia (6th)
United Kingdom (7th)
Denmark (8th)
Switzerland (9th)
United States (10th)

The Least Free:

Tajikistan (146th)
Venezuela (147th)
Iran (148th)
Uzbekistan (149th)
Turkmenistan (150th)
Burma (151st)
Laos (151st)
Zimbabwe (153rd)
Libya (154th)
North Korea (155th)

The rankings are based on an analysis of economic freedoms in each country as explained in this press release:
The Index, published by The Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal, has long documented that the nations with the most economic freedom are also the most prosperous. Those with the best scores in the 10 categories measured-trade policy, fiscal burden of government, government intervention in the economy, monetary policy, capital flows and foreign investment, banking and finance, wages and prices, property rights, regulation and informal (or black) market activity-enjoy higher standards of living and higher per capita incomes.
The United Kingdom is well placed at number 7 - ahead of the United States, which is in tenth position. Gordon Brown hasn't yet managed to destroy the Thatcherite reforms of the 1980s. I imagine that the US suffers from the machinations of the legally backed victimocracy lobby that have resulted in so much of America's manufacturing industry fleeing to Asia.

What though of Scotland?

Most of the categories examined by Heritage are reserved to Westminster, but not all. Scotland's devolved government has increased the fiscal burden on business (business rates), attacked property rights (land "reform") and just loves regulating anything that moves (planning laws, etc., etc., ad nauseam)

It seems highly likely that a separate Scotland would be placed well below the UK ranking and even further below that of Ireland - the country that the Scottish Nationalists wish us to emulate. If we want Scotland to be economically successful we need to slash regulations, bureaucracy and taxation. We also need to recognise property rights. Why shouldn't we aim to be number one? After all, Hong Kong was a Scottish invention.

The local

I recently bought myself a Canon A80 digital camera and plan to show more photographs on this site.

This is where the toiling masses of the Freedom and Whisky editorial department enjoy some post-blogging relaxation:

Wednesday 14 January 2004

Here's to you, Mr Mandelson

It was the ultimate sacrifice. No man was more loyal to his master than the Member for Hartlepool. In accordance with the arcane doctrines of the NuLab cult, Peter Mandelson's moustache had to go:
Many Labour high fliers have sacrificed facial hair in the name of naked ambition.
But perhaps a terrible error has been made. Here's the latest from India:
POLICE in northern India are being paid an extra 30 rupees (36p) a month to grow a moustache to give them more authority.

Mayank Jain, a police superintendent in Madhya Pradesh, said police with moustaches were treated more seriously, but that shape and style would be monitored to ensure they did not look mean.

Grow it back, Mandy. You'll be back in the cabinet in no time.

Tuesday 13 January 2004

Another education row

Several previous postings concerning education have mentioned Judith Gillespie of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council. Normally Ms Gillespie's remarks are of the sort that would be highly acceptable to most members of the Scottish political-educational complex. Now she has caused a bit of a rumpus:
Judith Gillespie, the development manager of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, said teachers should not be working in the state system if they send their children to private schools.

Her comments, which echo those made recently by an Edinburgh headteacher, will strike a chord with many in the profession but have prompted an angry reaction from union leaders and politicians.

Here is one of those reactions:
David Eaglesham, the general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association, said: "I’ve seldom heard such garbage. Life is about making choices, which car you want, where you live and what you do for a living. I think it’s despicable to say that teachers should not have a decision in their children’s future.

"You are getting into the area of social engineering. It’s serfdom.

In today's Scotsman Gillian Bowditch writes about this row and starts off by defending the teachers who chose private education for their own children:
At the heart of the argument is a dangerous assumption that those employed by the state owe total allegiance to the state.

The presumption is that if you work for the system, you have to support it whole-heartedly. If this totalitarian philosophy is taken one step further, no state employee - doctors, nurses or civil servants - would be allowed to choose an independent school for their child.

It may be galling for parents who have little option but to send their children to a failing school, to watch teachers opt to educate their own children elsewhere. But private education is not a morally reprehensible choice - for teachers or for anyone else.

Those were my own first thoughts on this matter. I then began to have doubts, as did Ms Bowditch:
It is too easy, however, simply to dismiss Wood and Gillespie’s arguments as unreconstructed Marxism, as outmoded as the class war. If you work for the state you must swear fealty to the state may be a dangerous philosophy, but it is one which is frequently advanced by New Labour, despite its hubris about choice and decentralisation.
Just so. New Labour wants the masses, including government employees, to be completely beholden to the state. Exceptions can be made for the Neuearbeitspartei’s own henchmen, or rather henchpersons, as Gillian Bowditch notes:
It is different for politicians. Diane Abbott has a duty to send her child to a state school because she has been elected on the basis of an ideology which opposes private education.

By choosing the independent sector she is perpetrating a fraud on the electorate. Politicians are responsible for education policy; teachers are responsible only for doing the best job they can within the parameters set by government.

Many other NuLab politicians are perpetrating such a fraud, including the Great Leader himself.

Back to those state school teachers again. I don't blame then for wanting the best for their own children. But if they use private education I don't see how they can belong to trade unions or vote for political parties that oppose private education. By speaking out in favour of private education teachers can protect themselves from the criticisms of the likes of Ms Gillespie, and indeed myself.

The curse of the blogger

Yesterday I criticised the head of Standard Life. Today he has resigned!
STANDARD Life chief executive Iain Lumsden today quit after 36 years with the Edinburgh-based finance giant as the group announced a strategic review of its operations.

He stood down as the life and pensions firm admitted it may have to consider demutualisation to strengthen its financial position.

I do hope that Standard Life survives as an independent entity - it is, I believe, Edinburgh's largest private sector employer. Standard's problems stem from remaining highly exposed to the stock market throughout the big declines of last year. I was a Standard Life policyholder until not too long ago. Being a student of the Austrian School of Economics, I switched out of the with-profits fund (linked to the stock market) into their cash fund at the end of 2001 and thus avoided the bonus cuts that followed. More recently I cashed in the policy. I cannot accept any responsibility for giving investment advice but I believe that the markets are still far too overvalued. Except for gold and silver of course.

Monday 12 January 2004

To float or not to float, that is the question

The new rules of the Financial Services Authority may mean that Edinburgh based Standard Life Assurance may have to give up its mutual status and float on the stock market. I may well write more about this in the future but couldn't help noticing this quote from Standard's boss:
"If we become a public company, future payouts will go down by 10 per cent because we will have to pay dividends … The best way to understand our worth as a mutual is to realise we are worth 10 per cent more." - Iain Lumsden, 12 December
That's extremely misleading. At present, all of the wealth owned by Standard Life is attributable to its current members - the policyholders. If Standard Life floats on the stock market dividends will indeed be payable to the shareholders but the first shareholders will be those very same members. No one can force them to sell their investment if they think that the capital value of the shares plus future dividends is worth more than the going stock market valuation.

Say no to government schools

Jean Walker has commented about this previous blog as follows:
And exactly what do you suggest we do with all the students who are "got rid of" because of disruptive behaviour? For some schools this would constitute 40-50% of their enrolment. Where do they go?
and again:
No one seems to be able to answer my question - if ALL schools are privatised and therefore able to "get rid" of all children who are not willing to learn or behave appropriately, where will they go? Who will educate them? Will the private sector then set up special schools with special teachers with special salaries (and therefore at a very increased cost) to cater for this fast growing group of students, and if so will students be forced to attend them and who will pay, as these students generally come from the poorest homes?
There are two things to consider here. First, should government be paying for education at all? Second, if so, should it run its own schools?

I make no bones about it: education should not be funded by government. The only legitimate function of the state is to protect citizens against those who initiate force or fraud. That means the provision of the armed services to protect us from external aggressors, the operation of local police forces to protect us from domestic aggressors, and a court system to try those accused of aggression and punish those found guilty. Whenever possible, criminals should make full restitution to their victims.

Everything else done by government should be privatised.

If most people want education to be funded by means of taxation, that's what will happen, even though I would argue that such provision is morally wrong and damaging for society. Government funding of education does not however require that schools be operated by the state. The provision of vouchers to be spent on private education is far preferable to the present system. And yes, private schools would be free to decide on which children they would teach. If the state wished to educate those children who cause disruption, then private schools could provide such services at a price. It is quite wrong that the majority of children (and their teachers) be terrorised by a mindless minority. When taxpayers are able to see the real financial costs of educating the troublemakers, there will be a justifiable outcry. We may then start asking questions like: Should education be compulsory? Answer: No - almost all children went to school when attendance was voluntary and not funded by government. Should the welfare state be abolished? Yes - it encourages the lack of responsibility shown by the parents of disruptive children. Should we get rid of the ludicrous minimum wage laws that keep young people from entering the workforce thus combining formal education with learning on the job: Obviously yes.

We won't solve the problem of disruptive children unless we re-examine the whole question of state education. Privatised education is making great strides throughout much of the world. Why shouldn't Scotland show the way here in the UK?

Sunday 11 January 2004


Sometimes it becomes very clear why so many people support Scottish independence. What could have been better designed to help the nationalists than this incident?
A Russian student refused entry to Scotland to study English was told by Whitehall officials she would have found the Scots accent difficult to understand.

The extraordinary statement was made in documents sent to the un-named women by Foreign Office officials when they refused her entry to the UK last summer.

"You cannot satisfactorily explain why you have chosen to attend an English course in Scotland rather than your options of Oxford or Cambridge, where you should face less difficulty understanding a regional accent," officials stated.

There were other reasons for refusing entry into the UK but the Foreign Office has refused to apologise for its remarks about "regional" accents. Full marks to John Swinney for ambushing Jack McConnell in the Scottish parliament. I wonder what would have happened if the Foreign Office had still been under Robin Cook, who himself has a "regional" accent.

Saturday 10 January 2004

More on the Council Tax

The Scotsman's Bill Jamieson shares my concerns about the removal of the second home discount.

Explaining that most second homeowners are not multi-millionaires, Mr Jamieson writes:

They are, in the main, quiet, modest, hard-working Scots who have saved out of their taxed incomes to buy a holiday home in the country they love. They are not the "idle rich" or "tax cheats". Nor should they be treated as if they are.

They make relatively light demand on council services such as schools and social services. But they do bring in a lot of spending that would not otherwise come to a rural area. They spend in local shops, pubs and restaurants, and employ local services for renovation and refurbishment. And when they let out these little properties, they bring in others who spend.

Treat them like milchcows for tax, and you risk driving Scots out of Scotland. Doubling their council tax is as good a way as any of closing down VisitScotland and boosting the tourist industries of France, Spain and Portugal at the expense of our own.

Sometimes you can't help wondering if our politicians are paid agents of competing countries!

Here is another point made by Mr Jamieson:

Councils may argue that they need the money for "social housing". But it is not at all clear whether more council housing, as opposed to private-sector starter homes, is the answer. Planning restrictions and the cumbersome nature of the planning system are also a major factor behind lack of suitable property for local workers.
The Scottish business community is up in arms about the harm done by the planners to industry and we see here that the planning regime lies behind the shortage of homes for young people. Scotland does not need any more council houses - now described in politically correct speak as "social housing". Aren't all houses for social use? At one time Scotland had a higher proportion of council housing than many of the communist countries in Eastern Europe. Let's do away with our damned dependency culture. Free up the market, sell off the last remaining "social" houses, fire all those unproductive consumers of the council tax and liberate the people.

Thursday 8 January 2004

Down with democracy

John Thorpe is correct to say in his letter that polluters don't have the right to infringe on the rights of others, but I get worried when he makes this statement:
Democracy does not mean the individual has the right to do exactly as he pleases. The will of the majority prevails, and, like it or lump it, the individual must accept that.
It's not that his definition of democracy is wrong; it isn't. What's worrying is that Mr Thorpe doesn't seem to understand what's evil about an unlimited democracy. The majority votes to execute all redheads. Under Mr Thorpe's democracy that's perfectly fine. Kill all coloured folk - OK if there's enough votes in it. Imprison those who go to the wrong church - why not?

An unlimited democracy is wrong. That's why the founding fathers of the USA created a constitutional republic whose Constitution was all about limiting the power of the state and not one that established an unlimited democracy. It's a tragedy that America threw away its republic and such a pity that so few in this country even know what the word means.


By an extraordinary coincidence I have just come across this post on the Discussion Board on the Daily Reckoning website:

"A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship."...."The average of the world's greatest civilizations has been two hundred years. These nations have progressed through this sequence: From bondage to spiritual faith; from spiritual faith to great courage; from courage to liberty; from liberty to abundance; from abundance to complacency; from complacency to apathy; from apathy to dependence; from dependence back to bondage."

The quote was attributed (to the best of my knowledge) by John Bagot Glubb in 1973 to Alexander Frasier Tytler. Others have sourced this quote arising from Tytler's book "The rise and fall of the Athenian Republic" 1776. Tytler certainly lived 1747-1813, becoming Lord Woodhoouselee in 1792. He was a Scottish lawyer and scholar, admitted to the Edinburgh bar in 1770, was a Edinburgh University professor from 1780 and became a judge in 1802. I personally believe the quote is taken out of some pamphlets in connection with his history courses at Edinburgh University, not any book. (There is no evidence in Edinburgh Univ or the British Library that any book entitled "The Rise and Fall of the Athenian Republic" or similar was ever published.)

To consider that this concept existed at the time of the founding of the US, is not surprising. The founding fathers tried very hard NOT to make the US a democracy, but rather a Republic with limitations imposed on its branches. It is most unfortunate in my opinion that the Supreme Court has failed to uphold the limitations of power clearly written into the Constitution. The US has tragically for all intents and purposes become a democracy, and, alas, probably will suffer the fate described by Tytler.


No taxation without representation

Tory MSP Brian Monteith explains here why the planned removal of the "second homes" discount on council taxes won't have quite the effect that some are expecting:
Your report gave the impression that scrapping the discount would result in "extra" income, when in fact councils determine the amount of revenue needed to meet their budgets and then set council tax levels accordingly. Therefore, the removal of a discount from one group of taxpayers should result in a decrease in all other council taxpayers’ bills to collect the same amount of revenue.
What exactly is wrong with the existing discount? People who own second homes do not receive the same "benefits" from their local councils as do full time residents. You can't have a child in two schools at the same time. Refuse is not generated simultaneously at two houses. Your car isn't using up two streets at once. Yes, the police may be protecting both of your properties - unless you're a Norfolk farmer of course - but that's about it. The discount should stay and along with it there should be the entitlement to a half vote at local elections.

Barefaced cheek

Here we go again.

The naked rambler has been sent to jail:

A MAN known as the "naked rambler" who is attempting to walk from Land’s End to John O’Groats was jailed for three months yesterday.

Stephen Gough, 44, was found guilty at a trial at Dingwall Sheriff Court after he was seen trekking nude through the centre of a Highland village.

How much public money has been spent persecuting this guy? He wants to walk from Land's End to John O'Groats wearing no clothes. It's not the kind of thing I would fancy doing in the middle of the winter - or any other time come to that - but why not just let him finish and go home?

Of course if he were to start breaking into remote farmhouses along the way and rob the residents the authorities would no doubt turn a blind eye and probably recommend him for a peerage for services to the performing arts.

Tuesday 6 January 2004

Another Scottish Parliament scandal

This time it's not the building; it's the day-to-day expenditure of the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body on things like salaries and running costs. The parliamentary audit committee has been in session today and was addressed by the Auditor General:
He said parliament bosses had been given several warnings of shortfalls in procedures and his report was the equivalent of a red card.

At one point last year nearly 300 discrepancies totalled more than £5m.

The Auditor General continued:
"What I mean in plain terms is that while there was sufficient evidence to confirm that the accounts are not materially mis-stated there were important shortcomings in the corporate body's internal financial controls.

"Specifically these weaknesses in control prevented me gaining sufficient assurance regarding the possibility of accounting errors or even fraud affecting the corporate body's affairs in some way."

This affair has been played down in the media on the grounds that there was:
"a mixture of debit and credit entries, which were offset against each other, the combined net total of the unreconciled entries was very small, at just over £300. But the combined value of the 290 underlying transactions which have not so far been matched were significantly greater, some £5.3 million." (from the notes to the Auditor General's report)
The news reports didn't give us enough to understand the implications of this. If £5m worth of phone bills had been recorded as, say, electricity costs, then it's not very efficient, but not such a big deal. If, on the other hand, £5m worth of current expenditure had been wrongly recorded as accounts receivable (assets) there would indeed be a potential loss of £5m that was understated in the accounts.

Let's give them the benefit of the doubt (for the moment). What is totally unforgivable is this:

"During 2002-03 the Corporate Body did not complete the necessary periodic reconciliations between its ledger and bank accounts ...... By the final stage of the audit, in early December 2003, 290 items remained unreconciled between the Corporate Body's bank accounts and its ledger either because payments recorded through the bank were not recorded in the ledger or vice versa."
That's just not acceptable. Reconciling one's bank account is the starting point to getting the accounts correct. This is a shameful disclosure especially in Scotland, the land that more or less invented accountants.

Reading further into the AG's notes we find this:

Final accounts testing found continuing errors affecting a wide range of matters including income overstated by almost £2m, two compensating errors of £1m each on fixed assets and errors in creditor accruals of £1m.
This would seem to indicate that the "bottom line" was out by a hell of a lot more than £300, but it's not expressed clearly enough to know the real story.

I wish that I'd gone along to the meeting today, although as a mere taxpayer I wouldn't have been able to contribute. I've read that the Parliament has failed to appoint a finance chief for many months. Here's the deal: I'll do the job for nothing as long as I can fire anyone I find to be incompetent.

What's in a name?

I note that Scotland's First Minister, Jack McConnell, is calling in the ad men:
Advertising experts have been called in by the Scottish Executive to promote a more modern image of Scotland abroad.
But it's not just the country that may need a new image. What about Jack himself?
Jack and Chloe have been knocked off the top spot as the most popular names for Scottish babies.

While Jack remains the most popular baby name in England, Lewis, which has its origins in Germany, is now favourite with parents north of the Border.

So parents in England still put "Jack" at number one, but not here in Scotland. Surely this has no connection with the name of our beloved leader.

Saturday 3 January 2004

A not so Happy New Year

Many readers will no doubt have heard about the last-minute cancellation of Edinburgh's Hogmanay party:
THE world-famous Hogmanay fireworks display and concert in Edinburgh’s Princes Street Gardens was cancelled for the first time in the 12-year history of the event last night.

In high winds which hit the city, four stewards in the gardens were injured by falling gates and pieces of debris.

My wife and I had decided to stay at home on Wednesday evening and watch the firework display from our window. I was looking forward to taking some photographs. On the way back from a lunchtime visit to the Oxford Bar I noticed that a strong southerly wind was developing. By 6pm the gusts were up to 45 mph and became stronger as the evening went on. Around 10.30 I read on the web that the whole event - the concert and the firework display - had been cancelled. I was shocked as by then the wind had died down considerably although I realised that southerly gusts could have blown fireworks onto the crowd in Princes Street.

The cancellation of the New Year event has rightly been seen as a fiasco:

Safety must, of course, always be the prime consideration at any public event. But the Hogmanay street party was a joke. This was not because of the cancellation of the fireworks (although the weather did improve significantly before the bells) nor the gig in the gardens. It was because of the attitude.

You do not tell 100,000 people, many of whom have travelled half way round the world to attend the event, to go home 75 minutes before the bells.

Perhaps it was necessary to cancel the firework display, although the wind had slackened considerably by midnight. Surely though there should have been a display the next evening when most of the foreign visitors would still have been in town. Apparently the fireworks were still usable.

More unforgivable is the lack of a proper venue for performances in Princes Street Gardens. As one of our few sensible politicians put it:

The city’s Tory leader Iain Whyte today suggested that serious questions had to be asked about whether the "crumbling" state of the Ross Bandstand played a role in the cancellation of the event.

He said: "Like many of the other culture and leisure facilities in the city, the Ross Bandstand hasn’t had much investment in recent years.

If we didn't waste so much taxpayers' money on politically correct boondoggles the city might have built an all-weather structure that would have allowed the concert to take place. Speaking of weather I read that one of the organisers had claimed that weather insurance was not obtainable because "it was an act of God". So why are there 2,770,000 references to weather insurance when you click on Google? In my advertising days I regularly arranged weather insurance to cover film shoots.

I do feel a bit sorry for Peter Irvine who has done so much for Edinburgh's tourist industry, and he did indeed warn about the state of the bandstand in the Gardens:

Pete Irvine, the director of street party organisers Unique Events, has called for the bandstand to be replaced by a permanent structure, which could be used not only for the Hogmanay concert, but for Fringe shows and other events throughout the year.

Mr Irvine’s suggestion must be taken seriously. The Ross Bandstand is an ageing structure which is obviously unsuited to modern concerts, or it would not need to be so heavily expanded for shows like the Concert in the Gardens.

The use of temporary awnings may be acceptable in fine weather conditions, but the on this occasion its instability has led to injury of four people and the cancellation of the concert at the centre of one of the world’s most famous New Year celebrations

So let's make sure we get it right next year. Get some of our large companies to sponsor a new bandstand to be ready for next winter and have a "Plan B" in the event of the weather necessitating cancellation of the firework display; don't just tell people to go home at 11pm.

At least we didn't get nuked.

Thursday 1 January 2004

High Noon

The British people have spoken and their message is clear:
A proposal to allow homeowners to use "any means" to defend their homes, has topped a BBC poll on the bill people would most like to see become law.
So can we expect the Tories to back the public?

Not likely:

Tony Martin's MP, Conservative Henry Bellingham said it went too far by suggesting homeowners should use "any means" to protect their property.
Mr Bellingham's views are shared by other members of the elitist establishment:
But leading criminal barrister John Cooper warned that the idea was dangerously flawed.

He said: "The law as it stands at the moment, despite its critics, is functioning. If you are in your house and you are attacked by someone or threatened by someone, you can use proportionate force.

"We do not live in the wild west. This legislation that is proposed effectively may well turn us into that."

I advise Mr Cooper to read a bit more widely before spouting off.

The "wild west" was actually very peaceful, especially compared to modern Britain:

The West during this time often is perceived as a place of great chaos, with little respect for property or life. Our research indicates that this was not the case: property rights were protected and civil order prevailed. Private agencies provided the necessary basis for an orderly society in which property was protected and conflicts were resolved.
Where's Marshall Will Kane when we need him? The voters want a lawman who will run the likes of Henry Bellingham and John Cooper out of town. We want justice for people like Tony Martin.