Thursday 29 April 2004

You couldn't make it up

I had an advance online look today at the latest copy of The Spectator. (Registration required) I am one of those who still purchase the dead-tree version despite the Speccie's extraordinary political contortions of the last few months. Indeed, I immediately started by looking at the letters to the editor to see if he was publishing complaints from readers both outraged and perplexed.

And there it was - a letter guaranteed to infuriate loyal readers even more:

Our broadcast media — i.e. the BBC — is the envy of the world. Our tabloid-dominated press is by contrast a laughing-stock and a scandal. The solution is obvious: we need a British Press Corporation, an equivalent of the BBC for print media. The ‘Beep’ could run a small stable of publications from tabloids to broadsheets (and even perhaps weeklies too).
Er, haven't the letter's authors heard of the Guardian or the Independent? As for a BBC weekly, what about the Gilliganised and Liddleised Spectator itself?

Then I saw the date of publication: 1st May. Obviously this was a misprint and I was really reading the issue of 1st April. But no, for then I noticed that the letter had been sent from a British university and was therefore all too frighteningly genuine.

Another of life's little nuisances

I feared that this was going to happen. The Scotsman's website now requires registration for access to almost all of its pages. If you wish to read linked articles you will need to register - the process is straightforward and broadband users need only log on once each day.

Wednesday 28 April 2004

Putting the Record straight

Glasgow entrepreneur Michelle Mone is in trouble again:
THE underwear tycoon Michelle Mone last night angrily denied claims that the Chinese factory staff who make her garments work in poor conditions.
Michelle had been attacked by the Labour-leaning Daily Record and its "investigation" into "sweatshops" continues today:
HIGH Street giants Marks & Spencer and British Home Stores have admitted they also use £1-a-day workers in China to make their clothes. They confessed (sic) yesterday after the Record exposed grim conditions at a factory manufacturing lingerie for top labels such as Agent Provocateur and Ultimo.
I don't imagine for a moment that the folk at the Record read anything written by real economists. They should have a look at this piece by Gary North:
Cities with millions of people are now developing all over China. This was not equally true in the past because worker output was low in cities under Communism. But with the freeing of markets, capital is flowing back into China, especially from Taiwan. Capital inside the country is flowing to high-output urban workers. This is increasing the price of labor. So, the move from the countryside to cities is a flood. There has been nothing comparable to this in human history. The closest that any nation has come is India. But arable land is more abundant in India. The economic pressure to leave the farm is not equally great
Those Chinese factory workers are far better off than they were in the days of Mao. He managed to murder 65 million of his fellow nationals. Those "low" wages are a great improvement on what went before. And most people in China save up to a third of their wages. How many Record journalists (or readers) manage that?

Michelle was quoted as saying:

"This is just wearing me down, I’m trying to create jobs in Scotland and create a worldwide brand in Scotland and this is what you get."

Her critics probably think that the silly wee lassie should get a real job - perhaps as a typist in the Glasgow social work department. Michelle will have the last laugh. Her contemporaries will end up as maids working for Chinese entrepreneurs.

Here we go again

There's yet more trouble being caused by Scotland's policy of maintaining divisive state schools:
AN £8 million plan for Roman Catholic and non-denominational schools to share a site in Peebles could create sectarian divisions in an area where religious differences have never been an issue, according to critics.

The majority of parents with children at Halyrude RC School and Kingsland School are said to be against the move, and now there are demands for alternative options to co-location.

For those parents who want to retain religiously separate schools, there is a simple answer: pay for it yourselves! It's quite outrageous that the already over-burdened taxpayer has to pay £4,700 a year for every pupil in government schools. If there must be a state system, don't waste money on this sectarian nonsense. Note the Scottish Executive's rather surprising decision to keep Christian religious observance at school assemblies when this practice is under attack in England. There wouldn't be much point in having separate Catholic and "non-denominational" schools if prayers were banned!

Monday 26 April 2004

Some time in the future

"Good evening sir. Have you got your surveillance card?"

"No, I left it at home. It’s not as if I look under eighteen, is it? If you want to be silly, here’s my pensioner’s bus pass."

"No sir, that’s not good enough. They’ve reprogrammed the beer pumps and I can’t serve you without your surveillance card."

Next evening

"Ah, I see that you’ve brought your card tonight. May I recommend a litre of the Federation Lager? It’s all the rage over in Brussels. That’ll be 5,000 Euro-Blairs, plus VAT – 10,000 in all."

Half an hour later

"May I have another pint, I mean litre?"

"Certainly sir. I'll just swipe the card first."

"Oh dear. There's a problem. You're authorised to drive a car. Only one beer tonight sir."

"But I walked here. I always walk here."

"I understand that sir, but the system won't allow drivers to have more than one alcoholic drink. After all, you may walk home and then get into your car. Why not try the recycled orange juice?"

The next evening

"The usual sir?"

"Yes please, and I'll have a burger as well."

"OK sir. Why not sit at that table and the waitress will bring it over when it's ready."

Ten minutes later

"Good evening sir, my name's Cathy Jamieson and I'm your server for tonight. Enjoy your meal. Gratuities are optional."

"What the hell is that? It's a carrot. Where's my burger?"

"Well sir, the NHS database says that you've had two burgers already this month. Another one would take you over the limit. It's for your own good sir."

Next week

"Here's your beer sir. The computer obliges me to remind you that your last tax return was sent in late. Get it in on time this year."

"Of course it was late. There was a postal strike for six months."

"Perhaps you should have flown out to Bangalore and handed it in personally. That's what I did."

Two nights later

"Hello sir. Before I can serve you, that policeman over there wants to have a look at your surveillance card. They're concerned about all the trouble you've been causing recently."

"OK, let's swipe the card then. Goodness me sir. The travel database says that you were in Iraq last year. How do you explain that?"

"Of course I was in bloody Iraq. I was in the bloody army. That's where I lost the leg. And I'll have you know that it was my unit that captured Osama Bin Laden. So stick that in your pipe and smoke it!"

"Now now sir. You know that smoking is illegal. I'm afraid I've got some bad news for you. You see that lady over there? Yes, the one who is drinking the North Korean alcopop and wearing the rather fetching designer-burqa. She's been looking for you all over town. The thing is, sir, she's a human rights lawyer and has been hired by Mr Bin Laden to sue you under the relevant European legislation. It wasn't very sporting of you to capture him before he blew up the Baghdad Parliament, was it?"

Saturday 24 April 2004

It's our birthday

Freedom and Whisky is two years old today!

This was the first post.

More from that map ...

Some of my wife's relatives now live in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Naturally, we looked them up to see if they had contributed to either party. No, they hadn't! What was interesting was the job breakdown of the contributors in this typical middle-America town.
Republican Donors:

Company President
Bank President

Democrat Donors:

Media Manager
Retired Professor
Technology Manager

Exactly as we would expect.

Show us the money

I found this map on Little Green Footballs

It shows the locations of contributors to the Bush and Kerry presidential campaigns. For some reason that I don't understand, Bush support is shown in red and Kerry support in blue. It's not too surprising to note that the Republicans are spread over rural and small-town America plus some of the big southern cities, especially in Texas. Democrats dominate Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Washington, Chicago and, especially, Boston. Just as we would expect.

What's really extraordinary is that we can zoom in in on particular cities and see where the donors reside and indeed read lists of all their names and addresses.

In this map of uptown New York we can observe the concentration of Republican contributors along Park and 5th Avenues. The other side of Central Park is better territory for the Democrats.

As far as I can determine, the top executives of Halliburton do not contribute to the Republican campaign. And yes, there are lots of Democrats in Hollywood.

Friday 23 April 2004

Scottish education can be a world-beater again

It's now becoming more widely known just how much is being spent on state education. The average sum spent per pupil in Scotland is now £4,700 per annum:
SCOTLAND has joined the world’s highest spenders in education - devoting at least £4,700 per pupil on a state comprehensive system that is fast approaching the cost of private schools.

A study by The Scotsman has found that vast sums injected by the UK government, combined with falling school rolls, have pushed Scotland’s spending powers above that of Sweden, Denmark and the United States.

Note how the expenditure was previously understated by ignoring maintenance and security costs. It's clear that a £4,700 voucher would enable all children to attend private primary schools at no extra cost to the taxpayer. Private secondary schools cost more but how much of the extra cost would disappear if those schools had the whole market to themselves?

Let's imagine a situation in which there was a "National Food Service". Assume that 90% of people collected their groceries "free" from local authority outlets. The other 10% choose to "go private". You can bet that the cost of food in the private shops would be a hell of a lot more than we pay nowadays. If private schools had the whole market to themselves there would be a dramatic reduction in costs because of the extra competition and the wider customer base. It wouldn't surprise me if the cost per secondary pupil fell below £4,700 per annum. We should get the local government dinosaurs out of education altogether as a matter of urgency.

Note the comment from the teaching union:

"Scotland is a rural country and you can have any system - be it a voucher, a passport or whatever - but for a significant number of people it’s meaningless because geography dictates that you have to go to the local school," he said.
This is highly misleading. A few years ago I read somewhere that Scotland was actually a more urban society than England. Most of us live in a small, densely populated part of the country. A privatised Scottish education system could be more competitive than elsewhere, not less. Besides, why should we assume that a private rural school would be inferior to a "public" one? There are other options as well, like homeschooling.

In the second article, Fraser Nelson explains that vouchers are used in other left-wing European countries like Holland, Denmark and Sweden:

These countries use the voucher system - where parents decide where their £4,700 should be spent. Except it is far less on the Continent: but this is more than enough for teachers to open their own schools and make things work.
Of course, Scotland's politicians are not impressed:
Yet in Scotland, political opposition remains entrenched. Ken Macintosh, a Labour MSP member of Holyrood’s education committee, speaks for many - including in the Scottish National Party - in saying that vouchers "undermine the state sector".

"The voucher system is an ideologically-driven idea based on the idea that private schools are better than state schools," he says.

"They subsidise private education for very few, and it simply does not create more choice at all."

But private schools are better than state ones - and a sound "ideology" would explain why. State schools should be undermined. Liberating education would benefit pupils, parents, the economy and most teachers. I don't mind which party introduces privatisation - it can be the Conservatives, or even the Scottish Socialists for all I care. After all, if it's good enough for Sweden it should appeal to our own socialists - if they really care about education.

Thursday 22 April 2004

Oh yeah!

So, my pension is safe from the EU:
BRITAIN will not bail out other European Union states facing a pension timebomb, Chancellor Gordon Brown insisted yesterday.
I'll believe this when Mr Brown sends me a letter in which he agrees to personally compensate me from any such loss. Naturally I will require the Chancellor's letter to be guaranteed by a Swiss bank of my choice.

Is Scotland sectarian?

Not really, according to Professor Steve Bruce:
SCOTLAND is not a sectarian country and claims of significant conflict between Protestants and Catholics are simply "scaremongering", according to a leading academic.
I know that sectarianism is still a problem, especially in the greater Glasgow area, but I thought that James MacMillan's claims "that anti-Catholic bigotry was rife in Scotland" were over the top.

The manager of my local pub is a Rangers fan as are some of the regulars, but I would guess that they are outnumbered by those who are "Celtic minded", many of whom gather in the pub before travelling to matches in Glasgow. When Old Firm games are shown on television there's certainly plenty of loud banter but nothing that indicates hatred or suggests that sectarianism is a problem here in Edinburgh.

Free the schools - and the teachers

The teaching union boss is understandably concerned about indiscipline in schools:
Dougie Mackie, the president of the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), said pupils must be left in no doubt that violence will not be tolerated in school.
The EIS is affiliated to the Scottish Trades Union Congress on whose website we can read:
Our purpose is to co-ordinate, develop and articulate the views and policies of the trade union movement in Scotland and, through the creation of real social partnership, to promote: trade unionism; equality and social justice; the creation and maintenance of high quality jobs; and the public sector delivery of services.
I don't think that there's too much of an indiscipline problem in Scotland's private schools. Indeed, that's one of their attractions to parents (and children). But the EIS is committed to the "public sector delivery of services" and As Ye Sow, So Shall Ye Reap. If the EIS wants its members to work free from verbal and physical assault they should promote the privatisation of schools. Of course, a thriving free market in education might not require much in the way of teaching unions.

Wednesday 21 April 2004

Edinburgh Rocks

When the previous Scottish Parliament closed down in 1707 there was much lamenting here in Edinburgh. Having our rulers nearby was said to be a good thing as we could always "pebble them with stones" whenever they got out of order.

Maybe the good old days are on their way back:

THE Holyrood parliament building was at the centre of fresh controversy last night when it emerged that plans have been drawn up for a procession of politicians down the Royal Mile for the Royal opening in October.

Some critical MSPs told parliamentary managers to ditch the plans, warning that a procession would look triumphalist and that bystanders might be tempted to throw rubbish at the politicians - such is the public anger over the cost and delays to the building.

Margo MacDonald suggests that her fellow MSPs pray for forgiveness instead of parading through the city streets. I have a better idea. Let them parade, but do it in August. The "pebble throwing" would be a popular addition to the Edinburgh Festival.

Monday 19 April 2004

A middle-aged rant...

We can now look forward to 18-year-old MPs:
MEMBERS of Parliament say teenagers should be able to stand for election, but that the voting age should not be cut, a poll has revealed.

The independent body may also suggest lowering the age of majority from 18 to 16, following a review of the voting system.

Proposals to reduce the voting age to 16 may not go through however:
Overall, 56 per cent of MPs questioned by CommunicateResearch said the minimum voting age should not be cut. On the Labour benches, 50 per cent said it should stay at 18 while 43 per cent favoured 16 and just 8 per cent 17.

That will hearten Conservatives, who reject suggestions that lowering the limit will encourage more young people to take part.

That's not a good argument from the Tories. Reducing the voting age would "encourage more young people to take part" - even if only one 16-year-old in the whole country turned up at the polling station instead of watching MTV. Why don't the Conservatives acknowledge the truth, which is that even 18-year-olds don't know enough to cast a properly considered vote? I would suggest a minimum voting age of 30 together with a property qualification that would restrict the franchise to taxpaying citizens.

It's the culture, stupid

A few weeks ago I added a link to Belmont Club. That site is essential reading for those who want to understand the ins and outs of the Iraqi campaign.

If you haven't already done so, start by reading this post:

The GWOT cannot be considered won until 90% of the viewership in the Middle East watches something other than Al Jazeera. The campaign in Iraq cannot be considered a success until Baghdad becomes the cultural capital of the Arab world, producing not less than 200 Arabic films a year: comedies, family dramas, stories of Arab boys who have triumphed over adversity to become doctors, scientists and explorers in outer space. Until the day when an Iraqi boy looks at an aircraft and dreams of flying to the moon instead of turning it into a 150 ton bomb the war will not be won.
How true, but I fear that mere politicians will not understand.

Saturday 17 April 2004

A Tale of Two Islands

This week's Spectator is a "Travel Special Issue".

Rachel Johnson describes her recent visit to Jamaica. Before departure, one of her companions suggests buying travel insurance:

"I mean, almost all the murders in London are committed by Yardies and here we are flying to the murder capital of the Caribbean."
After viewing the tourist sites and staying in a luxurious resort hotel it's time to see the "slums of Trenchtown".
I asked Oliver if he would be locking the van, because it was hot and I wanted to leave my bag. I dumped it on the front seat, full of dollars, a mobile and a digital camera. One hour later, on our return, I got back into the van first. It was unlocked. But my bag and belongings, which had been in plain view of some of the poorest people in the Caribbean, were untouched. (Readers whose cars have been broken into in the swishest parts of London will share my humbled sense of amazement.)
And there's more:
Later the same day we toured a Christian primary school, where 90 per cent of the children come from broken homes, junkie homes or no homes. The children, in their blue and gold uniforms, were smiling and disciplined, with shining faces, and for the second time that day I wondered why dirt-poor parts of Jamaica could manage things that Middle England seems incapable of mastering.
This line of thinking was confirmed when Ms Johnson arrived back home in Notting Hill:
I discovered a burglar had buzzed a paving stone through our front window in the night and nicked a laptop - a nastiness I can't imagine happening on my island in the sun.
The Great and The Good tell us that crime is the result of poverty. But in 2002 the GDP per capita of Jamaica was $3,739 and here in the UK it was $25,426.

In Ms Johnson's experience, Jamaica is safer than London and manages to provide a better education system. Why could that be? My suspicion is that Jamaica's authors, journalists, poets, songwriters, cartoonists, artists, religious leaders, police chiefs, judges, schoolteachers, academics and politicians love their country and respect its history, traditions and culture. In Britain they don't. I think it really is that simple.

Roll on independence

So, an independent Scotland may not automatically qualify for EU membership:
The suggestion came after a statement from Romano Prodi, the European Commission president, who indicated that any newly-independent region would have to make a fresh application to join the EU.
Labour Party politicians are chortling:
Scotland would be a new country while the UK would retain its seat at Europe’s top table. A vote for the SNP is a vote for isolation.
I was rather surprised to read this comment from the SNP:
There would be a process of negotiation going on for Scotland to leave the United Kingdom, part of which would include us inheriting the treaty obligations of the UK
I had always thought that the SNP's position was that the British state was founded in 1707 by the voluntary merger of England (plus conquered Wales) on the one hand, and Scotland on the other. Under that interpretation - which does seem logical to me - the departure of either Scotland or England (plus Wales) would mean the ending of the said British state. In other words, all subsequent entities would either remain in the EU or all would have to reapply.

The real question, surely, is why on earth anyone would want to be in the EU. If Scotland voted for independence and discovered itself to be unexpectedly outside the Frankenreich, would we perhaps decide to remain out? To be "Independent in Europe", to coin a phrase. Knowing that Brussels wants Scottish oil as well as Scottish fish, we may well choose to follow the example of our wealthy Norwegian neighbours.

Thursday 15 April 2004

Meanwhile, back in the real economy

100,000 "civil" servants went on strike on Tuesday:
Staff in Jobcentres and benefit offices in Scotland, England and Wales will walk out for 48 hours in a long- running row over pay.
Every other building in central Edinburgh seems to contain a private-sector employment agency. I've never noticed any sign of strike action occurring there. Why does the government need to compete with these companies? The strikers would be better employed in the real economy, working in topless barber shops or making kilts out of nettles.

The free market in action - don't you just love it?

Oil is next

Conservative MEP Struan Stevenson is continuing with his campaign against the EU's fishing policy:
A FUTURE Conservative government in Westminster would remove Britain from the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) regardless of opposition from the Scottish Executive.

Struan Stevenson, a Tory Party MEP, will tonight claim that the party would have no other option given that the Labour and Liberal Democrat coalition has shown themselves "unable" to represent Scottish fishermen in Brussels.

The pro-EU Scottish Nationalists don't like the idea of a Westminster role in fishing matters:
Richard Lochhead, the SNP’s fisheries spokesman, admitted that the CFP was outdated, but insisted Scotland rather than Westminster should have control of its fisheries.
Of course what Mr Lochhead wants is for fishing to be controlled "democratically", as long as the democratic controllers are Scottish. Politicians are the problem, not the solution. What is needed is for the fishing grounds to be privatised under the initial ownership of those fishermen who traditionally operated in the waters concerned.

I have said before that I want to know what exactly the Conservatives will do when Brussels inevitably refuses to "repatriate" fishing policy.

More importantly, what would a future Conservative government do about the takeover of our oilfields that would follow the adoption of the new EU constitution? Scots are very angry at the political betrayal of our fishing industry. That's understandable. But the oil industry, while less glamorous than fishing, is vastly more important to the Scottish economy. The Tories really do have to start planning for our eventual departure from the EU.

Tuesday 13 April 2004

"Liberalism" is always to blame

In last weekend's Sunday Times, historian Niall Ferguson speculated on Europe's demographic future:
It was the Egyptian-born, Swiss-based writer Bat Ye’or who coined this electrifying term to describe a continent part European, part Muslim, but hostile in equal measure to the United States and Israel. The idea is, to be sure, a magnet for cranks and extremists. Two years ago, Pat Buchanan published an apocalyptic book entitled The Death of the West, prophesying that declining European fertility and immigration from Muslim countries could turn “the cradle of western civilisation” into “its grave”. The resemblance between this argument and Oswald Spengler’s notorious Decline of the West (1922) is a little too close for comfort.
Ferguson goes on to say:
In short, a youthful Muslim society to the south and east of the Mediterranean is poised to colonise a senescent Europe to the north and west.

Indeed, this process is already well under way. Estimates vary as to how many Muslims now live in Europe, since not all countries record religious affiliation in their censuses. Some put the number as high as 14m. France has without question the largest concentration, with Muslims accounting for about 8% of the total population. Anyone who wishes to visit Eurabia need only take a trip to a place like La Bricarde, a largely Muslim suburb to the north of Marseilles.

Over on the City Journal, Theodore Dalrymple thinks that Islam is an overrated threat to the west.

Maybe, maybe not. It is quite possible to argue that Islam does threaten western values, or, like Dalrymple, to be more sanguine. What, however, is one to make of the comments of Angus Calder?

However, Angus Calder, the Edinburgh-based historian, said Mr Ferguson was seeking to alarm and shock, while Neal Ascherson, the author and journalist, accused him of "playing along with fundamentalist panic".

Mr Calder said yesterday: "Ferguson is a clever man but his basic position tells me he has taken free market liberalism to an insane pitch. I would not deny that it could happen but I think he is being alarmist."

"Free market liberalism" indeed! Ferguson suggests that Islam is taking over Europe demographically. He doesn't say anything about any particular economic system. Calder sounds like one of those juvenile leftists who denounce anything they don't like as being "Thatcherite", "monetarist" or, indeed, as having something to do with "free market liberalism", even when there is absolutely no connection with the question at hand. Given half a chance, these people will blame the weather or their favourite football team's lack of success on capitalism. Bah! I'd rather read Mr Ferguson and think seriously about what's happening in the world.

Friday 9 April 2004

Identity theft

Here is another useful article opposing the introduction of ID cards:
His (Mr Blair's) statement reflects the generally held belief that identity cards are invaluable in the fight against terrorism. Actually, as far as I know, nowhere in the world has researched their effectiveness.
Nothing too exceptional there for readers of this site, but what's interesting is that the article is written from the perspective of a computer expert rather than a libertarian:
With just a few tens of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money, scientists will set about card-cataloguing the nation. When the money starts to run out, the companies employing these boffins will start to leak stories to the press about how they are on the verge of a major breakthrough and all it needs is just a little more money.

No government, no matter what its political complexion, can turn down a request like this. That would be seen as being soft on terrorism and illegal immigration.

I like Mr Clayton's closing line:

It makes the Scottish Parliament building look like an exercise in fiscal prudence.
Quite so. I wonder how much pro-ID card propaganda is being spread by companies expecting to make a fortune from this evil scheme.

Close, but no cigar?

SNP leader John Swinney has been in Washington and managed to meet John Kerry.

The nationalists may have slightly exaggerated the importance of this encounter, but that's what politicians do.

Labour has criticised the SNP:

"This is typical of the nationalists - while Labour ministers are promoting Scotland, Mr Swinney is standing in the crowd like a latter-day Monica Lewinsky, hoping for a handshake or even a friendly smile from a real politician," said a Labour spokesman.
Now that's a bit below the belt. John Swinney as a "latter-day Monica Lewinsky"! The mind boggles. The question is: was Mr Swinney wearing his kilt when he met JFK (version 2)?

(Update: The SNP boss isn't too well known in the US as yet. My spellchecker recognises "Lewinsky" but not "Swinney".)

See you Jimmy

Well, here's another use for my taxes:
A group of asylum seekers and refugees in Scotland are to be schooled in Glaswegian "patter", enabling them to work in local branches of the Citizens Advice Bureau.

But training on how to understand the local dialect will come before they are sent out to face the public.

A total of 13 people will take part in the £100,000 project.

I presume that the £100,000 is the cost of the whole project and not just the language lessons. Perhaps it includes provision of the uniform:

The Citizens Advice Bureau tells us that:

... up to 80% of the refugees we see as clients (sic) are professionals such as doctors, teachers, accountants and bankers.
Would it not be better to teach terms like "entrepreneur", "businessman" and "self-responsibility" instead of:
"Soshal (Department of Work and Pensions)"


"Giro (benefit payment)"

The problem is that our rulers prefer asylum seekers to be wards of the state rather than productive workers.

Besides, I have a horrible feeling that the CAB would tell our visitors that the Glaswegian for "entrepreneur" is "chancer".

Thursday 8 April 2004

Letters from readers

Regular F&W reader Neil Craig had a letter printed in the Scotsman recently.

Andrew Duffin's letter in today's Herald explains the reasons behind the high cost of rural housing:

Once again – in the letter from Nick Dekker on April 7 – you give prominent credence to the view that the high price of housing in rural Scotland is some sort of sinister plot by landowners. This is not the case. Many or most landowners, large or small, would be delighted to sell land for residential development, or to develop it themselves for sale or rent. The reason they cannot, and do not, is the planning system. It is incredibly difficult, complicated and time-consuming to get permission to build a house in Scotland. It is, in fact, simply forbidden to do so outside existing settlements, unless you are a farmer or can plausibly claim to be one.

This is why we have a housing shortage. This is why a building plot – with such permission – on the west coast costs £50,000 even though the countryside is empty of building as far as the eye can see. The answer to a problem caused by state meddling is not more state meddling, but less: get rid of the planning system, the prices will fall, and the houses will be built. It really is that easy.

Andrew Duffin.

Congratulations to Neil and Andrew.

Wednesday 7 April 2004

Will Blair dish the Tories?

We may get a Euro-referendum after all. But perhaps not quite the one we might have expected:
The Prime Minister is understood to be considering seriously a move to undermine the Conservatives’ demands for a poll on the new European Union constitution by ordering a referendum on Britain’s place in the EU.
But what if this referendum were to be about "staying in" rather than being limited to the constitutional question?
Michael Ancram, the shadow foreign secretary, said such a referendum on whether or not Britain should remain in Europe or opt out would be "fraudulent".

He said: "We are fed up with gimmicks designed to distract attention away from the real issues.

"If Tony Blair is going to hold a referendum, he should hold it on the EU constitution and not hold a fraudulent debate on being in or out of Europe."

Why would such a debate be "fraudulent"? On the contrary, it would allow us to decide once-and-for-all whether we wish to remain an independent country.

But there isn't going to be any such referendum, is there?

The Prime Minister has ruled out giving voters a say on the new European Union constitution, and that applied to a wider poll on Britain’s place in the EU, a No 10 spokeswoman said.
Never believe anything until it's been officially denied. And it has!

If I were Blair I would seriously consider holding an "in or out" referendum. It would probably panic a large section of the business and financial world into supporting the Prime Minister. They'd be making a mistake of course, but what answer would the Tories have to such a strategy?

Labour gets it right!

The Scottish Nationalists are claiming to be more productive than their Westminster rivals:
A POLITICAL row broke out yesterday when the SNP claimed to be the hardest-working party at Westminster in light of new figures showing they had made the most speeches in House of Commons’ debates.
A Labour spokesman responded:
The idea that you can measure how hard-working an MP is by the number of times they get on their feet in the House of Commons is wrong.
In government we need quality not quantity. Most new legislation is harmful and unnecessary. An MP who made a brief speech that resulted in the abolition of a useless law would be more productive than almost any of his colleagues.

The anti-capitalist mentality

Here's another reason not to start a business:
NEW fathers across Britain could take a year’s paid leave to look after their babies under plans outlined by one of the Prime Minister’s closest allies.
But fathers have always been able to ask for a year's paid leave. The question is: will his employer agree? It's called the free market.

And Mr Milburn ...

... also wants all workers to be allowed to ask for flexible working hours.
Again, who's stopping them "asking" now? What exactly is Mr Milburn getting at? You can probably guess the answer:
The plans were set out in a speech to a think-tank in London in which Mr Milburn called on the government to do more to help parents balance work and home life.
So it's not about employees being "allowed" to ask for more favourable working conditions; it's about employers being forced to agree to them. By the state.

Note this:

Mr Milburn quit the Cabinet last year to spend more time with his family. Insisting life felt "a million times better" since leaving the frontbench, he admitted that not everyone could afford to "buy more time" by doing less work.
That's the understatement of the century. In the private sector there is this quaint principle of something having to be produced so as to generate enough cash to meet the payroll. If Mr Milburn never spends another hour in the House of Commons he'll get paid until (at least) the next general election.

What is really galling is Mr Milburn's failure to acknowledge the truth. He speaks of "helping working parents to make choices", setting out a "strategy", "paid parental leave should be extended", "daddy months", "free (sic) child care", "codes of practice", "flexible hours" and, best of all, thinks that: "a Labour government should not ignore choice. It should redistribute it"!

This has nothing to do with "choice". Blairites never acknowledge that they want to force employers to provide all these goodies, none of which would be needed if "working parents" weren't so overtaxed in the first place.

Tuesday 6 April 2004

Global warming

It looks as though temperatures in the British Isles will be a little higher by 2015:

Monday 5 April 2004

Our poor cities

I found this chart on the web the other day. It shows the per capita GDP of Europe's 61 richest cities as calculated in 2001. The figures are truly extraordinary. Frankfurt is the wealthiest European city, with a GDP of €74,465 per person. After a whole batch of German and other cities we get to Britain's richest city, which is London with an average GDP of €35,072. Edinburgh is just behind London at €35,018. Surprisingly Glasgow comes in at €31,893, well above places like Birmingham (€22,069), Manchester (€22,099) and Liverpool (€16,466).

Just what's going on here? John Moores University states that:

It is concerned that English provincial cities: are not punching their weight economically in the national context; are falling behind London; lack the right mix of responsibilities and resources to improve their performance; are not as competitive, or do not make as great contribution to the national economic welfare, as comparable cities in continental Europe.
Many European cities have powerful elected mayors who give clear leadership to economic development. Many successful cities have been deeply involved in European systems and networks, which has encouraged them to be internationalist, expansionist and entrepreneurial... The more centralised governmental, institutional and financial system must be one dimension of the underperformance of English cities. The policy implication is not a short term one. But it is clear. Letting go achieves more.
I agree. There can be no doubt that Scotland's separate civil society benefits both Edinburgh and Glasgow. The UK is by far the most centralised of all the large Western economies and that is clearly damaging for the big English provincial cities. Regional assemblies are understandably anathema to British libertarians. That's to be expected given their connection with the EU. Nevertheless some way needs to be found to reduce London's unhealthy dominance over the country. We should of course start by moving the capital to Glasgow.

Friday 2 April 2004

Multiple-choice question

There's a bit of a row going on in Glasgow over its twin city arrangements:
GLASGOW’S propensity for twinning with other cities looks to be heading along the lines of a multiple birth, after it emerged that the city may be twinned with Marseilles in France or Karachi in Pakistan.
A socialist twin or an Islamic one? Let's look at the track record:
The city is already twinned with Havana, Cuba and Nuremberg, Germany, Dalian in China, and Rostov-on-Don in Russia.
All places with a socialist present or past. Maybe it's time for Karachi. On the other hand, if Glasgow twins with Marseille it can get both socialism and Islam in one go.

Here's a radical suggestion: why not twin with Silicon Valley or, if something a bit more third world is required, Bangalore? All those Labour politicians are always going on about entrepreneurship and all that stuff. Do they really mean it?

A cut too far

In the ideal world there would be no states. Even defence can be provided more efficiently by the free market than by any government.

But, let's face it, only a few of us have seen the light. Most people in Britain still pray at the altar of the Holy Church of the NHS (Unreformed) and don't even realise that state education is an oxymoron. So it'll be a wee while yet before we privatise the armed forces.

I am prepared to accept that, for the time being, defence is a legitimate function of government and one that needs to be carried out properly. Only a few days ago I read that the British Army would be unable to fight another war for five years. That's a ludicrous state of affairs and it makes this news so shocking:

The Ministry of Defence is planning the biggest cuts in Armed Forces' equipment for decades as part of attempts to save more than £1 billion from the defence budget.
Five RAF bases and two aircraft carriers are to be lost. The Army too faces swingeing cutbacks, including the Black Watch.

The military is just about the only part of our public sector that works well. I suppose that's why it's disliked by the wicked, anti-British, self-hating Blair clique.

We live in increasingly dangerous times. If we must have a state, we should be increasing expenditure on the military, not cutting back. The government's got plenty of money - almost everything else it spends is wasted.

I'd like to think that Her Majesty would veto this outrage and send a couple of Black Watch sergeants round to Downing Street to give Blair the news.

Thursday 1 April 2004

An establishment cover-up?

I am inclined to agree with those who believe that the Holyrood Inquiry is a waste of time and taxpayers' money. We know that no one's going to end up inside or lose their pension. It's unlikely that all that many more folk will be now realise that the Holyrood project was imposed on the unsuspecting Scottish taxpayer by the Westminster cabinet when there was a perfectly good building ready and waiting for occupancy. So does it really matter whether or not the BBC is forced to release its controversial tapes?
THERE was stalemate last night in the ongoing battle between BBC Scotland and the Fraser Inquiry over access to interviews with key players in the Holyrood project.

Attempts by the Tories to use the powers of the Scottish Parliament to force the corporation to hand over recordings of the former first minister Donald Dewar and the Holyrood architect Enric Miralles were defeated yesterday.

The Scottish Nationalists think that the BBC should release the tapes, but didn't support the Conservatives attempt to force the issue in Parliament:
Fergus Ewing, the SNP spokesman on public services, said he believed that the BBC’s position was fundamentally wrong, but he rejected the Tories’ move.

"The BBC is on shaky ground, its position is untenable and unjustified," said Mr Ewing, who also accused the corporation of giving a misleading impression over its guarantees to interviewees.

But he added: "It is a fundamental principle of democracy that parliaments do not act as pinstripe bovver boys, pushing around independent media and broadcasting corporations, even where we all think they’re wrong."

I have some sympathy with Mr Ewing's defence of the "independent" media, but we're talking about the BBC! I always thought that the SNP (correctly) saw the BBC as the voice of the Westminster establishment and in no way independent. But when the SNP is faced with the choice of voting with the Tories or backing the Bolshevik/Blair/Brussels Broadcasting Corporation, we know which way they'll jump.

No, I didn't read this one either

There is one great advantage in the spam industry being predominantly based in Florida. When I look through my e-mails and see ones from people with unlikely names like Winston, Kaylee or Mary-Beth, I don't even have to think about hitting the delete key. Thank goodness these people rarely use good old-fashioned British Christian names, to use a probably politically incorrect term. But surely, even in Florida, could anyone be fooled by the e-mail I received today from Unhook B. Boosters? I know it's the 1st April, but come on!