Friday 27 February 2004

Bill Clinton: free trader

The former President is giving some business to Scotland. Not all Americans are pleased:
Staff at Netherfield Visuals, in Midlothian, were at the centre of a debate about the US economy - a key issue in the race for the White House.

While Democrat candidates complain that too many American jobs are going overseas, the party’s last president has indirectly awarded Netherfield Visuals a contract worth £600,000 to make cabinets for his forthcoming presidential archive.

I'm not quite sure what to make of this:
With more than 2.4 million jobs lost as a result of free trade since George Bush took office in 2001, the loss of manufacturing and IT jobs and contracts abroad has become a major issue.
The current administration hasn't been all that positive towards free trade - remember the tariffs suddenly imposed on steel and timber imports? In some ways the previous regime was friendlier to trading freedoms, but that won't stop populist Democrats spouting economic nonsense in the presidential election campaign.

As Bastiat made clear back in the 19th Century:

Free trade, Bastiat explained, would mean "an abundance of goods and services at lower prices; more jobs for more people at higher real wages; more profits for manufacturers; a higher level of living for farmers; more income to the state in the form of taxes at the customary or lower levels; the most productive use of capital, labor, and natural resources; the end of the "class struggle" that . . . was based primarily on such economic injustices as tariffs, monopolies, and other legal distortions of the market; the end of the "suicidal policy" of colonialism; the abolition of war as a national policy; and the best possible education, housing, and medical care for all the people."
Free trade doesn't "lose" jobs; it allows some jobs to be replaced by others, to the long-term benefit of mankind.

Incidentally, I rather thought that Bill Clinton was too involved in other matters during his presidency to have amassed enough reading material to fill a £600,000 bookcase.

Malky returns

I'm glad to see that Sir Malcolm Rifkind is on his way back to Westminster, having been selected for the safe Conservative seat of Kensington and Chelsea. Although a bit too much on the side of the State for my liking, he does seem to be an honest and gentlemanly kind of guy, unlike so many of the gang now in power.

I once met Sir Malcolm at the magazine section of Borders in Edinburgh and had a brief chat. I pointed him in the direction of the American libertarian publications, Liberty and Reason. Maybe he has picked up some useful ideas from them.

Sir Malcolm echoes Michael Howard's recent remarks on the role of Scottish MPs:

SIR Malcolm Rifkind has come out in support of the idea of Scottish MPs being prevented from voting on English-only issues, saying the present situation is no longer sustainable.
Quite correct of course, but a minefield for a Labour party that is so often dependent on the votes of MPs from north of the border. As I have written before, the only workable solution is for all four parts of the UK to be self-governing and self-financing with a fee being sent to the UK government to cover the few functions that need to be handled centrally. Other than defence and foreign relations, little else comes to mind.

Thursday 26 February 2004

The Scotsman

With effect from today readers wishing to access the opinion section of the Scotsman will need to register with the paper. I believe that this will also apply to the Edinburgh Evening News and, no doubt, Scotland on Sunday. Unfortunately, it appears that you need to log in each day, unlike the Daily Telegraph system that automatically recognises your details when you access their site.

Wednesday 25 February 2004


The commenting system appears to be offline at the moment. I have e-mailed Haloscan and hope to have the comments back shortly.

(In the meantime, if you have any comments to add please send them to me by e-mail indicating which post you are writing about. I should be able to add them when the system is working again.)

Quick changes

Goodness me. Jerry Hall was busy last night:
WHEN Jerry Hall opined that a woman should be a cook in the kitchen, a maid in the living room and a whore in the bedroom, it was clear she was open to playing a multitude of roles.

But last night the Texan beauty outstripped her own advice by completing a challenge to portray six different characters in six different stage shows in a single night.

This was Jerry's schedule:

7:40 pm - Her Majesty's Theatre (Phantom of the Opera)

8:04 pm - Palace Theatre (Les Miserables)

8:35 pm - Aldwych Theatre (Fame)

8:55 pm - Phoenix Theatre (Blood Brothers)

9:25 pm - Theatre Royal (Anything Goes)

10:09 pm - London Palladium (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang)

By a most extraordinary coincidence this bears an uncanny resemblance to my own plans for Day 1 as First Minister for Scotland after my appointment by popular acclamation:

7:00 am - 103 of Scotland's 129 MSPs are dismissed for late arrival at work.

9:00 am - I meet the Chief Constables of Scotland's Police Forces and demand plans for the removal of political correctness from their organisations and the introduction of a radical new policy: catching burglars. Some officers do not return by the 9:20 deadline and proceed directly to the dole office.

10:00 am - Presentation to a group of taxpayers of the first free share certificates in the newly privatised Scottish Schools PLC. Tax consumers do not receive any certificates.

11:00 am - (You must understand that we are looking a little into the future) - An official ceremony is held to celebrate the victory of Kilmarnock Football Club in the final of the Champions' League.

3:00 pm - The First Minister addresses staff and shareholders at the Global Bank of Scotland Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.

10:00 pm - Large crowds cheer the First Minister as he arrives at Holyrood. In the world's most successful Internet auction, the rubble from the Scottish Parliament building has been pre-sold for £1,000 million, thus giving a profit of £5 to the Scottish taxpayer.

10:30 pm - Her Majesty walks across from Holyrood House and graciously presses the button that explodes the ghastly monument to socialism and bureaucracy.

11:00 pm - The Queen returns to the Palace with lady members of the cabinet to watch a repeat of EastEnders while the First Minister and the rest of the cabinet (accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh) go on a mega pub crawl.

Tuesday 24 February 2004

Any more bids please?

Last week it was costing £420 million. Now it's gone up to between £425 and £430 million. What can I possibly say?

Getting the right result

The first item on last night’s Channel 4 News was a very lengthy investigation into America’s new computerised voting machines. I hardly think that this was the main news story yesterday, but Channel 4 never misses any opportunity to have a go at President Bush, and here was a chance. We were told that hackers could gain access to these new machines and deliver the November election to the Republicans. Well, that may be so. But why mention only the GOP? Hasn’t Channel 4 heard of the numerous suggestions of Democratic gerrymandering? That wouldn’t fit the agenda though, would it?

Jon Snow also expressed dismay at the size of the President’s $100 million election fund. The implication was that it would be so much better for America to use the severely constricted British election funding system.

But Mr Bush’s election stash has been raised voluntarily from people’s own pockets. No taxpayer is forced to fund the Republican campaign. I would draw your attention to the BBC Accounts for 2003. I note with astonishment that the Corporation has an income of £3,532 million. No viewer could deny that the BBC’s output is strongly favourable to the Labour government and its chances of re-election. Radio 5 Live alone costs some £53.8 million – almost the same sum as George Bush’s campaign fund – and Radio 5 is overwhelmingly leftist. The BBC’s relentless pro-Blair propaganda makes President Bush a mere amateur in the election funding business.

(By the way, who’s going to fund the BBC’s £1 billion pension fund deficit? I suspect that it’s you and me – the poor old taxpayer. We’re not going to see Greg Dyke or his successor out on the streets selling the Big Issue.)

Monday 23 February 2004

Is this accurate reporting?

Fred Goodwin is one of Scotland's most successful businessmen and has recently enjoyed a huge pay rise.

But have a look at the headline in the news report:

Goodwin to take home £3.5m in pay and bonuses
The article goes on to say that:
ROYAL Bank of Scotland’s Fred Goodwin has been paid about £3.5 million in salary and bonuses for guiding the company to its record results last year - catapulting him ahead of the pack as the country’s best-paid chief executive.
Unless I am very much mistaken, our Fred has "taken home" more like £2.1 million after paying something in the order of £1.4 million in income tax. Now most of us could probably get by on £2.1 million without too much bother, but I do find it rather worrying when business reporters make mistakes like this. All too often journalists ignore the effects of tax and state benefits when comparing standards of living. Let's leave this kind of headline to the Scottish Socialists.

In praise of Labour MPs

That's not a headline you're likely to read here too often, but in this instance it is justified. A group of Scottish Labour MPs has come out against the state funding of "faith schools":
In an interview with Holyrood Magazine, Dr Moonie, a former defence minister, called for the immediate withdrawal of state funding.

He said: "There should be no state-funded faith schools. Providing faith schools is not the job of the state, as religion has nothing to do with education.

Dr Moonie is not alone:
The group opposed to denominational education also includes Calum MacDonald, the Western Isles MP and former Scottish Office minister, Ian Davidson, the chairman of the Scottish Labour group of MPs, Malcolm Savidge, the Aberdeen North MP, and Frank Doran, the MP for Aberdeen Central.
The Catholic Church is upset:
Peter Kearney, a Catholic Church spokesman, said he was extremely angry over the MPs’ comments.

"It’s a pity that these past-their-sell-by-date politicians didn’t have the courage of their convictions to express their views when facing the electorate. I think it is telling that they use the twilight time of their careers to drop such inflammatory bombshells.

"And to say the taxpayer subsidises faith schools is unfounded because Catholics pay their taxes as well."

I entirely agree that these politicians, like all socialists, are "past-their-sell-by-dates" and have been silent on this issue when facing the electorate. Nevertheless, the operation of two parallel state school systems is a form of subsidy that necessitates higher taxation than would otherwise be required. Let's end this nonsense now. Of course, the best solution is the privatisation of all schools, Catholic and secular.

This post is a test

The Herald

Sunday 22 February 2004

When shall we see their like again?

I took these two photographs in Edinburgh on the way for a lunchtime beverage.

Richard Cobden and John Bright were the leaders of the Anti-Corn Law League, which achieved its goal in 1846 thus leading to the most successful period in Britain's history.

A map of the area can be found here

Friday 20 February 2004

The Scottish Parliament fiasco - part 998

So, it's gone up by another £19 million. I wrote some time ago that I expected the final cost of the building to be £500 million and I see no reason to alter that forecast. What's really extraordinary about the latest news from the Inquiry is this:
Mr Fisher told the hearing the true cost of the project had been suppressed for "political reasons" for several years. Twice MSPs voted to back the project, in 1999 and 2000, and on both occasions the true estimates were kept from them by civil servants.

The inquiry was shown a memo from Mr Fisher in 2000, in which he recorded how he had been told by Barbara Doig, the civil servant in charge of the Holyrood project, that it would be "inappropriate for political reasons" to release his cost estimates.

Why on earth are civil servants making political judgments? I thought that elected MPs and MSPs made policy and civil servants carried it out. I sincerely hope that heads will roll at the end of this affair with custodial sentences and loss of pension rights for those found guilty.

Don't mention the war!

I heard a funny story last night from Struan Stevenson MEP. You may recall that last year's EU Intergovernmental Conference ended in failure because the Poles "voted the wrong way". Good for the Poles, I say.

The German reaction was somewhat different. A German diplomat was heard haranguing a Polish colleague with the words: "How could you do this after all that we Germans have done for Poland?"

Where's Basil Fawlty when we need him?

Thursday 19 February 2004

Testing times

Jenny Hjul remembers her driving test in North London
I remember mine (plural) as if they were yesterday, the one I passed particularly. It was late on a dismal December afternoon when I eventually returned to base with the examiner, the north London rush-hour having scuppered his timetable.
I had my first experience of driving when my mother took me to a friend's house that had a long driveway. I was able to drive the maternal car forwards five feet and then backwards five feet without having a license as this complex operation didn't necessitate the use of the public highway. I then started driving lessons. At the time I was working in the West End of London and Lesson One was during my lunch hour. The school was in Charing Cross Road. "First we shall drive round Trafalgar Square," said the instructor! Traffic was a little lighter in the seventies. A few lessons later and I was learning to perform hill starts in Hampstead.

At this time I shared a flat with a workmate who had already passed his test but had never been to Scotland. We went for a weeklong trip and I was able to get in some useful driving practice in the Highlands. Nevertheless, Trafalgar Square hadn't prepared me for reversing 200 yards along one of those single-track roads with a lorry coming the other way.

I then took the test - in South London. Big mistake. I'm really more of a North London guy and, apparently, I didn't pay enough attention at the approach to a crossing.

After some more lessons, I booked for another test but told nobody about it. I just needed a day's holiday from work. This test was in Southgate - North London. All went well until I got back to the test centre and switched off the engine. A huge column of steam emerged from the front of the car.

"Do you want the good news or the bad news," the inspector enquired.

"OK, what's the bad news?"

"Your car is totally f.....d"

"And the good news?"

"You've passed the test, but if the car had broken down before we had finished, I would have had to have failed you."

"That's OK - it belongs to the driving school!"

After the driving instructor added some water, the car restarted and I was able to drive back in triumph.

Well, actually it was a Ford Cortina.

Monday 16 February 2004

The Council Tax (Part Two)

So, the Scottish Socialists' policy would result in national bankruptcy. What though of the other parties?

The Liberal Democrats want "the rich" to pay more, but not on the same scale as the SSP.

The Nationalists say that:

The SNP want a fair and transparent funding system for local government, which should include a taxation system based on the ability to pay.
Labour is spinning away as expected.

The Tories do seem to understand that the level of spending is a problem:

"The average increase in Council Tax this year is 5%. Contrast that with Tory proposals in Councils where Conservatives were able to offer an alternative and the rise would have been halved to just 2.4%
But why should there be any increase at all?

Graeme Brown gets it:

What is this tax being spent on? The government spin is that it is needed for services. But we know services haven’t improved by 90 per cent in ten years. Perhaps the real reason is that we are bailing out the generous and badly-managed council pension funds with their massive bogus ill-health retirements.
Exactly. As I wrote here:
Let's have a really good look at all those inflation-linked local government pension schemes that seem to allow early retirement for an amazing number of bureaucrats. Private sector pensions have been savaged by this government. Why don't we change the terms of public sector pensions to reduce the benefits to the average enjoyed by folk in the private sector? If that were to be done I bet that council tax could be cut instead of increased.
While we're at it, let's get rid of some of those twenty-five-grand-a-year council outreach workers who concern themselves with the vast, one-eyed, vertically-challenged, trans-gendered, multi-hued community of refugees who have apparently come to Scotland from even more socialist parts of the planet. Let those folk work for a living. I mean the refugees of course - the outrageous outreachers are beyond hope of economic redemption. Council tax finances a mere 25% of local government expenditure. Cut spending by one eighth and we could halve council tax at a stroke.

The Council Tax (Part One)

I can't say that I am too surprised by the results of this poll:
Seven out of 10 Scots think council tax is unfair and should be scrapped, according to a survey.

The System Three poll found that 77% of Scots believe it should be replaced by a tax based on ability to pay.

The poll was commissioned by the Scottish Socialist Party who have plans of their own:
There would be five ascending rates of SST (Scottish Service Tax) based on income.

* Rate 1) Nil. All income under £10,000 is exempt from Scottish Service Tax.
* Rate 2) 4.5 per cent. All income between £10,000 and £30,000 will be taxed at a rate of 4.5 per cent.
* Rate 3) 15 per cent. All income between £30,000 and £50,000 will be taxed at a rate of 15 per cent.
* Rate 4) l8 per cent. All income between £50,000 and £90,000 will be taxed at a rate of 18 per cent.
* Rate 5) 20 per cent. All income above £90,000 will be taxed at a rate of 20 per cent

The comrades have identified winners and losers under this scheme:
Laurie, a self-employed actor, lives with her teenage son in a Band C tenement property in Edinburgh. Last year, she earned just under £10,000. Her Council Tax bill, including a 25 per cent single person's discount is £667.50. Under the Scottish Service Tax she would pay NOTHING. Saving: £55 a month.
Good news for "Laurie", then.

What about "Frederick"?

Frederick is one of Scotland's highest paid chief executives, earning £1,200,000 last year. He lives in a Band H property in Edinburgh with his partner and their children. Their current Council Tax bill is £2,002. Under the Scottish Service Tax they would pay £233,100 a year. Loss: £19,258 a month.
Of course the taxes collected from Frederick and his ilk are meant to pay for most council expenditure. The fact that Frederick will have left the country taking his company and his most productive employees with him may well cause a slight financial hiccup in the glorious People's Scotland. But, hey, we can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs, can we? And anyway, cash flows and balance sheets are outmoded bourgeois concepts that should have been done away with long ago.

(I don't suppose that "Frederick" could be the boss of the Royal Bank of Scotland.)

Saturday 14 February 2004

My political career

Spring-cleaning has unearthed this document:

As far as I recall, I got 199 votes - the second highest out of some 30 candidates across London. I didn't get elected, but the Greater London Council was eventually abolished.

A pity about the missing apostrophe.

Dangerous thoughts

Each week in the Spectator Ross Clark writes his Globophobia column in which he surveys “world restrictions on freedom and free trade”. I won’t link directly to this week’s article, as I fear that registration is now required to read the Spectator online.

Mr Clark examines the forthcoming entry into the EUSSR of the ten new member states and discusses the impact of immigration from those countries into the UK.

He writes:

There is a quite obvious third way which has been given no consideration at all: let willing Lithuanians come to work here but don’t pay them a bean in benefits.
So what’s the problem with that? The difficulty is that all those “Lithuanians” without entitlement to benefits would, of necessity, have to work, and work hard. A disproportionate number of them would therefore become successful as employees and, in particular, as entrepreneurs. That in turn may well cause some of us to ask why so many British people don’t want to work and are perfectly happy to spend a lifetime on welfare. More sophisticated folk might even think that the true purpose of the welfare state is to provide voting fodder for politicians who themselves serve no useful economic purpose. That would never do. Surely it's far better to bar the new immigrants completely or put all 70 million on the dole as soon as they arrive at Dover.

Friday 13 February 2004

Apartheid in Scotland

The French Parliament has banned the wearing of headscarves in state schools. Now, there's a similar development in Germany:
The dominant party in the western German state of Hesse on Tuesday proposed legislation that would ban Muslim civil servants from wearing headscarves, a measure that goes further than three other states' proposals to outlaw the veil for public school teachers
This sort of thing doesn't go on in Scotland, does it?

Actually, we have our own homegrown religious conflicts in Scottish schools:

Scotland’s first mixed-faith secondary school campus has been hit by fresh controversy following news that the headteacher of the Catholic school at the complex was ordered to take down religious artefacts.

Marion Docherty received an e-mail message from Midlothian council’s director of education, instructing her to remove items from a wall in a shared corridor in the £33 million building.

The situation is utterly ridiculous. We have two separate state school systems in Scotland - one Catholic and the other "non-denominational". Two of these schools in the Midlothian town of Dalkeith now share a common campus but the whole arrangement has been plagued with trouble from the start. There was even talk of teachers having to use separate toilets. Unsurprisingly, Muslims now want their own state schools.

I note this afternoon that Edinburgh City Council is about to spend £550 million on school redevelopment. Now I wonder if this has anything to do with the cost:

Designs for the school buildings involved have still to be drawn-up, but it is expected that Forrester High and the neighbouring St Augustine’s RC High, which already share some facilities, will be housed in a shared campus.
It's that religious duplication again - at the taxpayers' expense. Why not merge these two schools completely? No wonder our council taxes have just been increased by well above the rate of inflation.

The state shouldn't be in the education business, but as long as it is why should we be asked to fund two or goodness knows how many more brands of "faith" school.

The headscarf problem in France is also the result of state-run education. Let's privatise all schools. Then they can set their own rules - at their own expense.

Thursday 12 February 2004

Today's letters ..

.. in the Scotsman include this one from Andrew Duffin who explains that our bodies belong to us and not to the state.

Andrew also drew my attention to Roy Bradley's letter, which says:

If councils wish to increase local taxation above the rate of inflation, they should have to seek the approval of residents.
Approval should be given by taxpayers rather than "residents" according to Andrew. That's right, and when we consider that no one who is on welfare or who is working for the public sector pays any tax just how many taxpayers are there other than the readers of this blog?

Wednesday 11 February 2004

Metropolitan bias

It looks as though the BBC is not interested in any Scottish applications for the position of "chair". Oh well, I suppose that rules out my friend.

Tuesday 10 February 2004

A population swap?

Professor Duguid makes some useful points about the plans to bring more immigrants into Scotland:
It would enable the government to avoid addressing the scandal of Scotland’s huge number of fit, unemployed people on welfare
I have no problem with people coming here who are willing to support themselves. The Herald (no direct link to the article) has a story today about a Latvian couple that have been told to leave the UK even although they can probably be here legally after 1st May. They don't want to live at the expense of the taxpayer and are keen to work:
They are both enthusiastic about the prospect of working, having been denied the opportunity since they came to Britain three years ago. Mr Suhotskis, who worked in the building trade in Latvia, buying and renovating properties, said he would find it easy to get a job in Glasgow.
So why is it "easy to get a job in Glasgow" when 20% of the city's population is on welfare? I say: Ship out all those fit, unemployed people in Glasgow to Eastern Europe and replace them with hard working and entrepreneurial folk from the Baltic countries.

To the Department for Culture, Media and Sport

I have seen your recent advertisement for the position of BBC Chair.

I am very interested in this challenging opportunity and in particular the salary of £81,320 pa. You will see from my photograph that I am uniquely qualified for this job and look forward to going to London for an interview. You can probably arrange for me to be delivered by Federal Express at little cost.

Monday 9 February 2004

Taxes up again

This time it's the council tax:
COUNCIL taxes across Scotland are set to rise by an average of 5 per cent, according to the Scottish Executive.

Andy Kerr, the finance minister, said estimates submitted by local authorities indicated an above-inflation rise in most council areas.

And he said he would have "very grave concerns" if any local authority exceeded these figures when new levels are announced on Thursday.

I read elsewhere today that inflation is now running at 1.3% under the government's latest definition. Shouldn't a 5% tax increase cause Mr Kerr "grave concern", not to mention the 15% in poor old Moray? I certainly think so and will make a modest suggestion. Let's have a really good look at all those inflation-linked local government pension schemes that seem to allow early retirement for an amazing number of bureaucrats. Private sector pensions have been savaged by this government. Why don't we change the terms of public sector pensions to reduce the benefits to the average enjoyed by folk in the private sector? If that were to be done I bet that council tax could be cut instead of increased.

The football crisis

It looks like Heart of Midlothian will be selling their ground in Edinburgh and moving to the Scottish Rugby stadium at Murrayfield. To say that fans are unhappy would be an understatement:
With Hearts currently attracting an average home gate of around 12,000 this season, there has been real concern among supporters over what the atmosphere will be like in the cavernous bowl of Murrayfield with its capacity of 67,800.
Posters like this one are regularly displayed at Hearts games. Robinson is the current boss.

I must say that the planned move seems to be rather hasty as well as being tremendously unpopular with the fans:

This, despite a proposal from leading shareholder and property developer Robert McGrail to buy the stadium and rent it back to Hearts and a wide-ranging business plan from his brother Peter which would lead to a new Tynecastle as the focal point of a new multi-sports complex in a regenerated Gorgie.
One thing is certain: we don't need politicians getting involved in Scottish football.

But, of course, they are:

With Livingston, Motherwell and Dundee football clubs all forced into administration, Mr MacAskill is to sponsor a debate on how the Scottish Parliament might support the game.
MacAskill states:
"This is not a question of public money - there can be no bail-out - but we can look at the strategic direction and structure of the sport."
But we don't expect consistency from MSPs, do we?
Mr MacAskill called for money to be put into the sport via other development programmes.

"The Executive currently puts cash into youth development. I believe that opens up the opportunity to link this money to internal reform and play a proactive role in helping football through this crisis."

That sounds like a bail-out to me.

I think that football should consider the system used in the US. The team that does worst in the league gets first pick of the best players in the next season. That way we get competitive games that people will pay good money to watch. I'm not suggesting that politicians should lay down such a law but that the sport's governing body should change the current situation in which Scotland has two clubs with multi-millionaire players and all the other clubs being on the verge of bankruptcy.

Sunday 8 February 2004

Interesting question

Asked on the Daily Reckoning discussion board:
Question: What recent event most clearly shows the extent of Globalization?

Answer: Princess Diana's death.

Consider: An English princess with an Egyptian boyfriend crashes in a French tunnel, driving a German car with a Dutch engine, driven by a Belgian who was drunk on Scottish whisky, (check the bottle before you change the spelling) followed closely by Italian Paparazzi, on Japanese motorcycles; treated by an American doctor, using Brazilian medicines. This is sent to you by an Australian, using Bill Gates' American technology, and you're probably reading this on one of the IBM clones, that use Taiwanese chips, and a Korean monitor, assembled by Bangladeshi workers in a Singapore plant, transported by Indian lorry-drivers, hijacked by Indonesians, unloaded by Sicilian longshoremen, and trucked to you by Mexican illegals.

I am impressed by the correct spelling of "whisky".

Saturday 7 February 2004

So what do you know about economics?

My wife Pam has just taken the economics quiz on the Mises Institute website. She is rightly proud of achieving the excellent score of 87%:

Pam insists that the only economics book she has read is Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt - and that was some 15 years ago. This either demonstrates what a good book Hazlitt wrote or that Pam really has been listening to my ravings over the years.

Thursday 5 February 2004

I'm a Politician, Get Me Out of Here

Here is an extract from the Liberal Democrat 2001 General Election manifesto:
The Right to Know

Individuals should have the right to know as much as possible about decisions taken by government and in the Scottish Parliament.

And yesterday in the Inquiry into the Scottish Parliament Building fiasco we discovered that:
And Lord Steel revealed that he had deliberately kept crucial information on this dispute back from MSPs, information which could have persuaded some to vote against the project and stop it in its tracks.
And who is this Lord Steel? The former leader of the Liberals!

Big Brother alert

Andrew Duffin has drawn my attention to this letter in today's Scotsman.

As Andrew says:

Given that the reason we have a shortage of housing is very largely "the planning system", this letter is a really classic case of "the answer to state interference is more (and more determined) state interference"
Note Mr Bookbinder's use of the weasel term "social housing". Are privately owned houses "unsocial"?

Good news

The Bank of England has raised interest rates to 4%. Contrary to what the media has been reporting over the last few months not everyone in Britain is in debt. Someone is doing the lending to all those indebted folk - of whom Gordon Brown is the champion. It's good that the lenders are to be compensated a bit more fairly.

Is it safe to vote?

Or is there any point in voting? Thomas DiLorenzo thinks not. Writing about the USA he says:
But America was not founded as a democracy. It was a constitutional republic. The whole purpose of the Constitution, James Madison wrote in Federalist #10, was to control "the violence of faction," by which he meant democracy. That’s why, until the Lincolnian "Civil War Amendments" were added to it, every part of the Constitution was a prohibition of some kind of governmental power or activity. Democracy was made into a "civil religion" by Lincoln and subsequent generations of Lincolnites who have successfully overthrown the constitutional republic of the founding fathers.

These constitutional prohibitions or limitations are all but ignored today, of course. The Constitution does not provide for the central government to get involved in education, let alone sending a man – and untold millions or billions of dollars – to Mars.

Mr DiLorenzo concludes that he should not vote:
That’s why it is unpatriotic to vote. Being patriotic in America means being devoted to the Constitution, if not the natural rights philosophy that motivated much of it. Since neither of the major political parties has any interest whatsoever in enforcing the constitutional limitations on the state, they are all traitors to the Constitution (with one lone exception, Congressman Ron Paul).
But is it safe to vote? I have voted in every election in which I was entitled to participate. I once travelled several miles across London by bus to vote in a local council bye-election in which there was absolutely no chance of a change in party control. The turnout was about twenty percent. It has always seemed the right thing to do for someone interested in politics. Now I am not so sure.

We know that British ballot papers have a reference number that is logged against the voter's individual code. If the state wishes to know how we vote, it can. Surely that wouldn't happen here. A few years ago I would have said no. Now I'm not so certain. As reported over on Samizdata:

Home Secretary David Blunkett wants new anti-terrorism laws to make it easier to convict British terror suspects.

He has discussed lowering the standard of proof required by a court and introducing more pre-emptive action.

Possible plans, revealed on his six-day trip to India and Pakistan, also include keeping sensitive evidence from defendants and secret trials before vetted judges.

As David Carr commented:
The truly frustrating thing here is that not only is Big Blunkett unlikely to be opposed to any meaningful degree (the Conservatives are already weighing in on his side) but his ripping up of our last remaining bulwarks of civil liberty is probably going to make him more popular. That is because civil liberties are unpopular. They are merely the boring obsession of pot-smoking hippies and wishy-washy do-gooders; a shielding sanctuary behind which terrorists and child-molestors can hide from justice.
I wouldn't be at all surprised if this awful government were to start checking how we have voted, although it's fairly obvious that I wouldn't vote for them in a million years. Spoiling one's ballot paper might draw even more attention than voting the "wrong way". Perhaps I've voted for the last time, but I'll still stay up on election night to enjoy seeing the smug smiles removed from the faces of some unexpected losers.

Tuesday 3 February 2004

Are we free?

Here is another call for greater Scottish fiscal autonomy:
ROBERT Crawford, the former chief executive of Scottish Enterprise who resigned ten months ago following pressure over allegations of mismanagement at the quango, last night gave his backing to greater fiscal powers for Scotland.
I too agree with a movement towards fiscal responsibility for Scotland and there is a good document on this subject available as a pdf file ("Paying Our Way") from the Policy Institute's website.

Fiscal autonomy does not necessarily imply national independence, as Mr Crawford explains:

"I think the argument is a broader one than nationalism versus unionism. It’s a very sophisticated argument. You can get US states which have got far more powers in the economy than presently exist in Scotland and they happily exist in a federal system."
US states certainly do have far more freedom to manage their own affairs than does the Scottish Executive. Indeed, in some respects American states have more independence than does the UK government. Texas can decide whether or not it wants the death penalty. Florida is free to levy a sales tax and to decide the rate of such a tax. It can also decide not to have a sales tax. Washington has no say on these matters. The UK has no such freedom. EU rules forbid us from restoring the death penalty. Brussels also insists that we impose VAT and that it must be within certain tax bands.

Let's devolve power away from the mega-state down to the people, or at least to local politicians whom we can keep an eye on.

Monday 2 February 2004

News from Houston

I don't understand American football but I liked some of the Superbowl ads that were shown last night. Especially the Budweiser Clydesdale Donkey.

Standard Life

Some time ago I read an article about outsourcing - it may well have been by Peter Drucker who writes wisely on this topic. The message was that outsourcing is a very useful business tool but that an organisation should never outsource its core activity.

Standard Life is thinking about outsourcing its handling of complaints:

Standard Life said it is considering outsourcing the handling of "mis-selling" complaints from its endowment mortgage holders in an attempt to hit a strict deadline set by City watchdog the Financial Services Authority for dealing with complaints.
In my opinion that would be a grave mistake. Standard Life has suffered from a huge amount of adverse publicity over the last few years and especially in recent months. Restoring its good name should be the number one priority for Standard's executives. Such a task should not be outsourced and indeed I would suggest that all members of the organisation's top management spend a few hours each week manning the phones and speaking to real live customers. Regaining the members' trust is surely the core activity at the present time.

I believe that Standard Life should have been more wary of the very high stock market values that pertained a few years ago and it should have scaled back its exposure to equities at that time. I notice that Standard is now being criticised for selling shares when the market is "recovering". I'm not so sure. It seems to me that valuations are still far too high and Standard may well now be correct in at last reducing its exposure to the stock market.

Sunday 1 February 2004

Oh what a tangled web ...

My Member of Parliament is Alistair Darling. In today's Sunday Times (registration may be required outside the UK), Mr Darling writes about calls for Scottish MPs to be barred from voting on "English" matters in the House of Commons:
It would go against the grain of our constitution to have two classes of MP. When constituents send their representative to parliament they expect them to represent their interests. MPs are not restricted exclusively to constituency matters but are free to speak, and vote, on all matters brought before parliament.
Of course MPs are not restricted to speaking about "constituency matters", and rightly so. But Mr Darling has a problem. There are already two classes of MP. An MP representing an English seat can speak and vote on UK concerns such as foreign policy and levels of taxation. So too can Mr Darling as MP for Edinburgh Central. An English MP can speak and vote on health and education policies affecting his own constituents. Mr Darling cannot do so because health and education policies for Edinburgh are devolved to the Scottish Parliament. He is a different sort of MP. What Mr Darling can do is speak and vote on health and education in so far as it affects English voters and that is a constitutional outrage.

Mr Darling points out that some apparently "English" legislation nevertheless has a Scottish impact:

Take the question of the current Higher Education Bill. While variable fees, as a devolved matter, will not apply to Scottish universities, many Scots attend universities in England and, indeed, a significant proportion of the Higher Education Bill will apply in Scotland. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that Scottish MPs are interested in these proposals. The idea of Scottish MPs participating in scrutiny of some bits of a bill and then withdrawing for others would be unworkable and absurd.
I'm sorry but that won't do. Many Scots attend universities in the United States. Does that mean that Mr Darling should be able to vote in the House of Representatives? I think not. The coming of devolution means that is absolutely necessary for Westminster legislation to be firmly and fairly split into English and UK categories with Scottish MPs having no say on English laws.

Here's another problem identified by Mr Darling:

Even more fundamentally, it would make a nonsense of the way in which we choose a government and hold it to account. There is no separation of the legislature and executive in the UK. If we had two classes of MPs we could be faced with the prospect of a government elected for the UK unable to deliver its programme for parts of the UK. A government with a majority in the UK but not in England.
It is quite wrong for any party to be talking about implementing a programme for all parts of the UK from Westminster - Scottish domestic policies are devolved and are legislated from Edinburgh. Mr Darling doesn't seem to grasp the necessary implications of the devolution settlement.

The current situation is the creation of Mr Darling's own party and does indeed logically imply an eventual movement to either federalism or independence. For myself, I chose federalism. To those who reject federalism as being unworkable because of the dominance of England in the UK state, I reply that the problem goes away when government is reduced to its (arguably) legitimate function of protecting the people against those who initiate force or fraud.