Tuesday 29 June 2004

The war on hunger

Canadian bureaucrats have interfered with an unusual self-help scheme devised by starving citizens:
Canadians have gone to the polls in a federal election with a firm warning from election officials: Please do not eat your ballots.

Travels with a camera

While exploring Stavanger,

including the cultural attractions,

I noticed that a well-known UKIP politician is already doing business in Europe although, appropriately, not in the EU:

Size matters

Occasionally Scotland's politicians tear themselves away from the excitements of social inclusion, affordable housing, ministerial pie consumption and escaping prisoners to spend a few moments considering boring things like the economy. Our glorious leader has made a pronouncement:
JACK McConnell admitted last night that Scotland’s public sector was too big and something needed to be done about it.

But the First Minister insisted that the solution was to increase the size of the private sector, not shrink the public sector.

Oh dear. I suppose that I shouldn't be surprised at this kind of thinking but the truth is that our private sector is so small precisely because the public sector is so big.

In praise of Jack McConnell. Sort of.

There's been a bit of a row here in Scotland over the latest waste of taxpayers' money:
SCOTLAND has an inspiring new symbol - created using £300,000 of public cash - to promote the country abroad. It features a white, diagonal cross on a blue background and will be called... the Saltire.

Hold on a minute. Isn’t that the very same design that has been a proud symbol of Scottishness for almost 1,200 years? Isn’t it already on flags flying from hundreds of major buildings? Isn’t it imprinted on the consciousness of five million Scots at home, and more abroad?

Well, yes, but that hasn’t stopped the Scottish Executive spending a third of a million pounds and many weeks canvassing world opinion on what should be the ultimate symbol of Scottishness, and deciding: it is the cross of St Andrew.

It is of course ridiculous to spend all that money on discovering what any normal person already knows: that the Saltire is an appropriate symbol for Scotland.

But let's look on the bright side. Normally government projects incur a huge amount of tax-financed expenditure - thus taking resources from the productive part of the economy - and then cause further harm by actually implementing the policy itself. In this case the £300,000 has indeed been wasted, but, amazingly, the correct solution has been found. Is this a first?

Monday 28 June 2004

We have ways of making you laugh

The Germans do indeed have a sense of humour:
ANYONE who believes the national stereotype of the Germans as humourless might like to ponder the following Teutonic rib-tickler: How did the Grand Canyon originate? Answer: A Scottish tourist lost a 50-cent piece.

This, and dozens of jokes like it, is popular in Germany, where the stereotype of the tight-fisted Scot is alive and well.

As well as provoking mirth, the alleged meanness of Scots is also a powerful marketing tool. The phrase Schottenpreis - literally ‘Scotsman’s price’ - is used in countless adverts to persuade German consumers that something is dirt cheap.

I understand why this sort of thing annoys many folk (as detailed in the article), but on balance I agree with this observation:
Ted Cowan, professor of Scottish history at Glasgow University, said the Scots should live and let live. "I think that of all people, the Scots should know how to have a sense of humour. There are worse things which can be said about people than that they are rather too careful with money."
We should take advantage of this image. Shouldn't Scottish financial institutions be proclaiming our reputation for financial prudence in their advertising campaigns and try to expand in the German market?

Better still, why don't we slash Scottish government expenditure and encourage German firms to move here to enjoy a "Schottentax"?

The big smoke

Scotland is benefiting from a rather unusual tourist boom:
According to British tourism officials, the introduction of a ban on smoking in public in Ireland earlier this year has triggered a boom in foreign holidays designed around the nicotine habit — with Scotland a favoured destination.
It's not only tourists who are coming over:
Mary White, Amy Kissane and Mairead Curry, all students from Co Westmeath, are spending the summer working in Edinburgh, so that they can smoke in public.

“The options were to stay at home and find work or to come to Scotland, where we knew we could enjoy a fag in the pub,” said White, 20, a business studies student. “Coming to Scotland is like being let out of jail. As soon as I got off the plane, I sat on my bag and lit up.”

The Scottish Executive wants to encourage young people to come here and work - and they are! Needless to say our politicians will introduce the same neo-fascist laws in our own country, thus undermining the tourism boost as well as the influx of young workers. Oh well.

Friday 25 June 2004

The Law

While in Norway I came across a copy of the “Viking Laws”:

1: Be Brave and Aggressive

Be direct
Grab all opportunities
Use varying methods of attack
Be versatile and agile
Attack one target at a time
Don’t plan everything in detail
Use top quality weapons

2: Be Prepared

Keep weapons in good conditions
Keep in shape
Find good battle comrades
Agree on important points
Choose one chief

3: Be a good merchant

Find out what the market needs
Don't promise what you can't keep
Don't promise overpayment
Arrange things so that you can return

4: Keep the camp in order

Keep things tidy and organised
Arrange enjoyable activities which strengthen the group
Make sure everybody does useful work
Consult all members of the group for advice

Not too bad a set of rules for libertarians.

The Blogger returns

My wife and I are now back home from our visit to Norway.

When in Tromso we met one of the natives whose attitude to a well-known EU leader was inspiring:

Monday 21 June 2004

Rich Norway, poor Scotland?

I have been visiting Norway for the past 9 days and can't help but being impressed by the prosperity and cleanliness of the country. Is this due to all that North Sea oil money? Perhaps, as the SNP would claim, it's because Norway is independent. Then again, Norway is outside the EU and retains control of its fishing industry which seems to be so very important here.

It looks like Scotland is to come into some unexpected cash:

This will give Mr McConnell a budget enjoyed by no other comparable leader in the EU. Scotland’s health spending, as a share of the economy, will be the highest not just in the 25-member European Union, but in the developed world.
No doubt McConnell will waste the cash on typical Labour boondoggles. If he must spend taxpayers' money why not invest in a world-class transport system like Norway's?

Saturday 19 June 2004

Latest announcement

No, I'm not in Portugal! Actually I have been beyond the Arctic Circle and thus unable to use the internet or even to find out how the football was doing. Hopefully normal blogging will restart soon.

Saturday 12 June 2004


Blogging will be light over the next few days.

Thursday 10 June 2004

UKIP in Scotland

It looks likely that the UKIP will do well in today's EU election. But in Scotland? I've seen no sign of any active canvassing by UKIP nor any poster displays, but there's none from Labour, the SNP or the LibDems either. I did spot two Tory posters yesterday and there are lots around town from the Green Party and the Scottish Socialists.

I think it's probable that UKIP won't do as well here as in England. Not because we're more in favour of the EU - opinion polls show Scots to be more eurosceptic than folk down south.

Labour is in trouble with its core vote because of the Iraq war. The LibDems are in coalition with Labour here and therefore seen to be less distinct than in England. The Nationalists are going trough a bad patch with a considerable amount of infighting. And the Tories - well they seem to be doing quite well and there was even speculation in the press recently that they may come top in Scotland! Their supporters may well decide that such an unusual opportunity is not to be missed and I therefore expect there to be less of a switch to the UKIP than elsewhere. But we shall find out on Monday.

Active feline

Kitten, the 24-year old "political activist", was the first inmate to be removed from Big Brother. Yesterday, she was in court for non-payment of parking fines:
She told a packed court in her home city of Brighton, Sussex, she had not paid the fines because of a £15,000 university debt.

Wearing jeans and an anti-capitalist T-shirt, she was twice told to be quiet by the magistrate.

When asked why she had failed to make the payments, dating back to April last year, she said: 'I haven't had enough money. I left university with £15,000 worth of student loans thanks to Mr Blair.

'It's thanks to Tony Blair, who said he was going to prioritise education and bring back grants and promised he wouldn't introduce top-up fees.'

What a nerve! This "anti-capitalist" can afford to run a car and is whingeing about paying her student loan. She should sell the car if she's unable to afford her debt repayments, but I imagine that it'll be those us who are "pro-capitalist" who end up out of pocket.

Are the UKIPpers sufficiently Scottish?

Does it matter that none of our local UKIP candidates actually resides in Scotland? I'm not so sure that it does. No doubt any winning candidate would rapidly establish a Scottish base and it does looks as though several of the hopefuls have Scottish connections. They are after all a UK party and, perhaps surprisingly, one that recognises Scotland as being a nation within the UK.

Tuesday 8 June 2004

The people's flasher

It looks like ScotRail has found a way to defeat graffiti "artists":
The cunning FlashCam device is triggered by movement and flashes twice.

The first flash prompts those caught in the camera’s view to look towards it, then a second flash captures the offenders on film.

The United States-built equipment also issues a warning in an American accent.

It states: "You are in a restricted area. Law enforcement agencies have been advised of your presence."

Excellent news. I am working on a similar device: the PolCam.
Before the October opening, the cunning PolCam will be installed in the new Scottish Parliament building at Holyrood.

It will be triggered by movement of MSPs whenever they stand up to speak in the chamber.

The Scottish-built equipment will issue a warning in the accent of an irate taxpayer.

It states: "You are in an area paid for by the people. The taxpayer has been advised of your presence. You do not need to tax anything, but anything that you do tax will be noted down and may be used in evidence against you."

Road or rail?

Fans of railways are great letter writers:
People talk about putting rail at the heart of the country’s econ-omic growth, but the message coming from those with power to influence matters is hardly encouraging.
And Mr Elder's solution is - surprise, surprise:
A national strategy is needed, and sooner rather than later.
The national strategy that is required is really rather simple. It doesn't need an army of civil servants "planning" transport. God forbid. What is required is the proper recognition of property rights - something the Scottish Executive avoids at all costs.

Private road owners would ensure that vehicles pay the full cost of use. That may be more than what is currently collected in taxes. It may be less. But without privatisation of roads we will never enjoy a rational transport system. I'd be amazed if such a transport regime didn't include a sizable rail component.

Monday 7 June 2004

Photographic interlude

Not quite D-Day. This is WWI vintage - a Sopwith SE5A (replica) that I photographed at the recent Scottish Aero Club Fly-in at Perth:

A photograph of the harbour at Anstruther in Fife:

Spend, spend and spend again

Scots once had a reputation for prudence - and I'm not talking about Gordon Brown here! It is claimed that a generation of spendthrifts is heading for financial disaster by failing to save:
The major analysis of spending habits uncovered a generation of young people in Scotland who have lost their parents’ instinct to save for the future. It shows they would rather spend their money on alcohol, fast food, fashion accessories and mobile phones than build a nest egg.
But are young people really to blame?
"Perhaps younger people look at their parents and realise that they have spent their lives saving and don’t have much to show for it. Their pensions may be worthless, which makes young people think it is a waste of time to build a nest egg. Instead, they decide to spend the money while they are young and can enjoy it. Their thinking is that they will worry about it in the future," she said.
The government has harmed private pensions by abolishing tax relief on dividends and by increasing red tape on productive companies. Clearly, inflation is on its way back big-time - how else will we pay for the chancellor's spending plans? Increasing inflation will reduce the value of any savings one may make for retirement. On top of that, the benefits system makes it not worth investing in a pension fund unless a very sizable sum can be amassed. So maybe the young folk are right: eat, drink and be merry while you can and, if you're really clever, get a job with the government and all your pension problems will be solved. Until the country goes bust, that is.

Saturday 5 June 2004

Look North

Apparently the Conservative Party has forced its EU election candidates to agree with Tory membership of the European Peoples Party:
It is instructive, therefore, to discover, that Michael Howard, the Conservative Party leader, has demanded that all Tory candidates in next week’s elections, sign up to the party’s recent deal with the ultra-federalist, left-leaning European Peoples Party. Failure to sign would lead to deselection.

What is the EPP action plan the Tories have pledged themselves to? Phasing out the national veto; a pan-European president; a pan-European tax; and a single currency.

Even the Telegraph's pro-Conservative Charles Moore criticises the EPP link in today's paper.

I was amused to note that the EPP's website seems to think that the UK has taken over the Faroe Islands! No bad thing I say. I can see several advantages in the return of British imperialism:

1. The "British" Broadcasting Corporation might finally realise that places like Manchester are not in "the North".

2. Presumably we would have a larger share of all that forty-dollars-a-barrel North Sea oil.

3. Five British teams would be eligible to take part in the World Cup.

4. I would have to make a trip to the Faroes to visit Britain's most northerly bar, having already made the pilgrimage to the existing titleholder.

Friday 4 June 2004

Has Brown left it too late?

I imagine that this story will result in heated but private debate within the Labour Party:
LABOUR’S war of succession flared again yesterday, when Tony Blair’s closest aide claimed Gordon Brown could never become Prime Minister - because he is Scottish.
I don't really think that Brown's nationality rules him out as Prime Minister in the reasonably near future, but the West Lothian Question really does need to be answered. My own preference is for Scots MPs to be barred from debating or voting on England-only laws, with a corresponding reduction in salary. However, if we get a few more of those Commons votes that force through English-only legislation with the help of Scottish MPs, who knows what will happen? Maybe then English Labour MPs would indeed refuse to pick Brown as leader. We could even have a West Lothian Question in the Labour leadership election itself, whenever it eventually comes. What on earth would happen if Gordon Brown received a majority vote but only by including Scots?

It's interesting to note that the Scotsman's political correspondent doesn't seem to consider Edinburgh-born Tony Blair as being Scottish:

If Mr Powell did assert that Mr Brown could not become Prime Minister because he is a Scot, he clearly has not read a history of the occupants of Downing Street. In the 70 years between 1894 and 1964, there have been seven Scottish prime ministers who covered a total of 25 years.
Of course, Tony is probably the only person born north of the border who doesn't proclaim his own Scottish nationality.


Here is the original version:
TICKET touts were charging up to £120 for the chance to see the Dalai Lama give his only public talk in Edinburgh yesterday.

Eager to cash in on the last day of a six-day Scottish visit by the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize winner, ticket prices, originally £15, soared as crowds turned up outside the Usher Hall for the world peace flag ceremony and concert.

Corrected version:
Heroic entrepreneurs enable keen Buddhists to see their leader despite market misjudgement by managers of government-owned concert hall

Thursday 3 June 2004

Who's nutty?

In today's Scotsman Jenny Hjul asks: Why are so many otherwise sensible folk going Green? She gives us some good arguments against voting for the Green Party in next week's EU election. What though are we to make of this?
It may seem unkind to pick on Greens when there are far more sinister (BNP) and nuttier (UKIP) forces out there, but it is worrying that so many otherwise sensible folk think Green is the way to go.
I agree that the BNP are sinister, but why is it "nuttier" to favour the retention of Britain's independence than to advocate policies that would cause the deaths of millions of human beings?

Bring back free trade

I'm showing this photograph again today to mark the 200th birthday of Richard Cobden.

Political language

The Scottish Socialists had to go to court to allow them to call Tony Blair a liar in a party election broadcast. The SSP won the case and their film has now been screened.

Calling Toneboy a liar seems a bit mild compared to the headline in The Sun today:

Minister is an EU traitor
According to the paper:
BRITAIN has been secretly signed up to an astonishing blueprint for an EU superstate, it emerged last night.

EU minister Denis MacShane has backed plans to surrender huge swathes of power to Brussels.

OUT would go Westminster’s right to set taxes, foreign, defence and immigration policy.

OUT would go our cherished seat at the top table of the world’s most powerful bodies.

Michael Howard says:
"Any idea that Britain’s sovereignty is safe in the hands of this Government has been blown out of the water.”
Quite correct of course, but what will Mr Howard do about it? Why won't he say that there could well be a need to withdraw from the EU - even if he doesn't think that we've reached that point yet? Unless that option is available, the Frankenreich can roll all over us.

Wednesday 2 June 2004


We libertarians believe that private organisations should be free to set their own rules so long as they don't involve the initiation of force or fraud. That doesn't mean that we necessarily agree with those rules.

Yesterday's decision by the Scottish Premier League seems to me to be quite wrong:

SUPPORTERS and politicians in the Highlands united last night in condemnation of the Scottish Premier League’s decision to block Inverness Caledonian Thistle’s promotion to its ranks.

The Division 1 champions do not meet the SPL stadium criteria but had agreed a ground-share deal with Aberdeen to allow them to take their place in the top flight.

The SPL insists that member clubs have stadia that can seat at least 10,000 people. Inverness doesn't meet that stipulation but has agreed a deal with Aberdeen allowing the use of their ground for home matches. The SPL has vetoed that deal. Actually, I think that it was a nonsense to expect Inverness fans to travel 100 miles or so to Aberdeen to watch their team's "home" games, but that's been ruled out now. Inverness normally attracts only two or three thousand spectators, although more could have been expected were they to play in the Premier League. The SPL should welcome Inverness into their ranks - they have earned that right fair-and-square. If the Inverness ground were to be filled to capacity (2,280 sitting plus 4,000 standing) every two weeks that would provide the sort of atmosphere that is sadly lacking nowadays anywhere outside Ibrox or Parkhead.