Thursday 30 September 2004

It's only money

The new Disability Legislation comes into force tomorrow:
In the biggest shake-up of consumer legislation in a decade, the Disability Discrimination Act, which was passed in 1995, requires every business—from the local shop to restaurants, health clubs, dentists and supermarkets—to become more user-friendly for Britain’s disabled people.
Now it's all very well for businesses to make themselves "disabled-friendly" but only if that's in the company's own interest. It's not a proper function of government to be forcing companies to provide specific facilities for a particular group of customers.

As is so often the case with this sort of thing the proponents of these new laws seem to have no conception of reality:

However, John Mitchell, on behalf of the Broughty Ferry-based Disability Issues Group (DIG), said cost should not be seen as a barrier.
All those years that I spent studying profit and loss accounts, balance sheets and the like were a waste of time for "cost should not be seen as a barrier"!

But there are some recalcitrants who haven't yet seen the light:

“Clearly more needs to be done to convince the minority of the commercial case for making their business accessible. It is interesting that 86% of those surveyed were unaware that disabled people spend about £5 billion annually on goods and services in Scotland.
So there is a "commercial case" for the changes that are being demanded. Not quite, it seems. Those boring folk who still think that costs are real and who don't inhabit Labour's dream world have a different point of view:
“And less than a third felt that making their premises more accessible would have a positive impact on profits.”
Where will this all end? There's a continuous onslaught on those attempting to run businesses, especially those that aren't large enough to cope with all of the red tape. I can't work out whether politicians just don't understand what they are doing to the economy or that they expect to be off enjoying their gold-plated pensions by the time that the sh-t hits the fan.

Wednesday 29 September 2004


... for the lack of blogging recently. Things should return to normal later on today or tomorrow.

Saturday 25 September 2004

Jings! Crivvens! Help ma Boab!

This time, they've gone too far:
FOR decades, he gave not a jot for political correctness or cholesterol levels by encouraging his horse with jaggy spurs, six-gun at the ready and consuming live cow pies. Alas, the good times are over for Desperate Dan. The children’s favourite is the latest recipient of a makeover for more politically correct times.
This is not the Dan we know and respect.

For starters, what about this:

Gone too is the pistol, which was said to promote gun culture. It used to be seen poking out of the top of Dan’s holster but has now disappeared - although the holster remains.
A disarmed Dan! Doesn't that mean that the great man's statue will have to be altered?

(photo from Michael Laing's website)

And if Dan's gun has to go surely Minnie the Minx will have to lose her catapult. Will it be safe to walk the streets of Dundee now that honest citizens have lost their weapons? I mean, would you wander down the Nethergate on a Friday night without carrying your own personal backpack nuke? I certainly wouldn't.

It gets worse:

Also axed are the spurs and Dan’s dramatic method of preparing his dinner by tearing cows apart, both of which are regarded as too overtly cruel to animals.
"Cruel to animals". Nonsense: there are far too many marauding hordes of bovines rampaging through the streets of Scotland's fourth city. Their excessive wind probably caused the Tay Bridge Disaster.

Dundonians are nevertheless looking forward to being introduced to the Dandy's

first ethnic minority character, an Afro-Caribbean boy detective called, wait for it, Dreadlock Holmes.
I am sure that young Dread will carry on in the successful tradition of his esteemed predecessor.

But I did notice this little snippet about Dreadlock:

who lives with his mum, dad and sister
Ye Gods! A NUCLEAR FAMILY! Next we'll be hearing that Dread's dad has a job and that his mum stays at home looking after the children.

So Dundee hasn't quite mastered this political correctness thing after all. Good. The city by the silvery Tay is more-or-less OK as it is. Just bring back the Jute, Jam and Journalism. And the cow pies. Or pehs, as they say in Dundee.

Thursday 23 September 2004

There is an easier way

Another day, another government initiative:
PETER Peacock, the education minister, has called on schools inspectors to investigate the standard of teacher training, amid fears that the need to find more places for students may lead to a drop in quality, The Scotsman can reveal.
The main opposition party is, naturally, in disagreement:
Fiona Hyslop, the SNP education spokeswoman, said: "I think Peter Peacock is chasing his tail on teacher recruitment and training.
And the alternative? Come on now; this is the SNP we're talking about. Ms Hyslop wants a government plan:
"Instead of planning in advance, he is choosing to use the big stick of the HMI. He should have planned for quality support for student teachers in the first place, rather than using penalties and threats."
Planning! Of course: Come back Clement Attlee, all is forgiven.

Why can't anyone - and the Tories seem to be silent on this - make the obvious point? There is a way for us to have the best possible monitoring of teachers and that's for us to privatise all of our schools. I recognise that most people think that education should be funded by the taxpayer, but that's no reason for the state to actually operate schools. Privately managed organisations go out of business if they don't satisfy customers. There's a built-in quality control system that doesn't require bureaucratic government inspectors or plans. Why don't we give it a try?

What's in a name?

Surely some mistake here:
VISITSCOTLAND, the body responsible for tourism, spent £7.4 million developing its website but failed to buy up one of the most popular web versions of its name -
Well, it's not too late:
Anyone who types into an internet browser is told that the website is for sale
That's OK then, isn't it?

Not quite:

A spokesman for VisitScotland said the company did not view the sale of the domain name as a threat and had no intention of bidding for it.
But the government-funded tourist body has a plan in the event of someone purchasing the domain name:
"At the moment, there is no content on it. If someone was to buy it, it could be seen as something very similar to our own. If so, it could be seen as ‘passing off’ and then we would take the appropriate legal steps with the full force of the law."
Ah, that's all right. Instead of investing a few pounds to protect the expensively created brand there's always the option of spending tens of thousands on a lawsuit. Perhaps it's some kind of Keynesian job creation scheme for Edinburgh solicitors and advocates. You know it makes sense.

Indian takeaway

Having been through several mergers and takeovers in my time I know that sudden changes at work can be very stressful and necessitate new lifestyles that would not otherwise have been chosen. I have no objection in principle to the outsourcing of jobs to India but sympathise with those whose jobs may be lost here at home. More jobs may be going:
BRITAIN’S largest insurer, Aviva, yesterday refused to rule out job cuts across its 3,350-strong Scottish workforce, as it revealed that, by 2007, it plans to have moved 7,000 UK jobs to low-cost centres in Asia.
I would be rather more impressed with Aviva's plans if they were operating efficiently at the moment. I recently cashed in a pension policy that had been invested with Norwich Union for many years. I was told that the lump sum element of the policy would be in my bank account "by the end of last week" and that the first monthly payment would be in my bank on Monday of this week.

On the basis of this advice I placed a long overdue order for a new car. The lump sum wasn't in my account by last Friday. I waited until Monday and neither the lump sum nor the monthly payment had arrived. Monday was a local holiday here in Edinburgh and there is always some confusion about which holidays are observed by our banks so I waited until Tuesday and then called Norwich Union. After numerous attempts to get through on various phone numbers I was eventually told that someone would call back that afternoon. No one called. I phoned again on Wednesday morning and, eventually, someone called me and said that he would release the money and that it would be in my account on Friday. I am now hoping that the cash does indeed reach my bank tomorrow and that the new car doesn't arrive (from Korea!) today.

The sad thing is that none of this is unusual. Norwich Union is no worse than many other companies one has to deal with. I recall that my late father had all of his personal documents pertaining to the house, banking, savings and insurance in a small metal file about the size of two shoeboxes. Despite computerisation, I have to keep a vastly greater quantity of paperwork than did my father.

Will the Indians manage our affairs any better? Maybe - they don't seem to have a mania for destroying their education system. Whoever can sort out these nightmarish business inefficiencies will be the next Bill Gates. Except, of course, most of the paperwork is created by his products!

Monday 20 September 2004

But if he were 17...

Withdrawal of legal aid may mean that this case will not now go ahead:
Glasgow City Council is currently being sued by ten-year-old Neil Fitzpatrick and his mother, Anne, over claims that he was being sexually discriminated against by not being allowed to attend Notre Dame High School in Dowanhill, one of the city’s top schools.
This case raises several issues. The owner of any business - including a school - should be free to discriminate on any grounds whatsoever. So should customers. If an educational entrepreneur wishes to operate a girls-only school, so be it. Parents have no right to force the school owner to alter his terms of business, only to take their custom elsewhere. There does seems to be some evidence for the educational advantages of single-sex schooling, but that's not the real issue. What really matters is freedom.

But Notre Dame High School isn't run by an entrepreneur - it belongs to the City of Glasgow Council. Although I oppose state schooling it seems reasonable that properly elected councillors should be free to operate a single-sex school if they so decide and taxpayers' money should not be made available for lawsuits of this kind. It is however nonsensical for there to be separate Catholic and non-denominational state schools in Scotland. Not surprisingly, other religions are now seeking the establishment of their tax-financed schools.

The way round all of this is to take education out of the hands of government altogether and to return it to the people.

Besides, a ten-year-old lad is surely too young to want to be the only male pupil at a girls' school.

Pay up, Darling

It looks as though my MP will shortly be getting some bad news:
SCOTTISH Secretary Alistair Darling is set for a rude awakening after it emerged that his family’s hideaway holiday home in the Outer Hebrides will become one of the first properties to be hit with a council tax levy.
But perhaps there's a way out for Alistair:
Mr Darling has strong family connections to the area through his mother, whose ancestors have links with Great Bernera. Though the council will not discuss individual cases, it is believed Mr Darling’s home is regarded as a second home.
Surely Mr Darling isn't going to get away with some "ancestral home" scam and somehow keep his council tax discount. Come on now - the guy is Member of Parliament for Edinburgh Central and works in London as Transport Secretary and also as (part time) Secretary of State for Scotland. I imagine that Mr Darling has houses in both London and Edinburgh as well as on Great Bernera - three homes in all. If "ordinary" people are to suffer loss of council tax discount so too should MPs, on their second as well as their third homes.

Of course, like all beneficiaries of the state, MPs don't actually pay any tax at all. They simple recycle back some of the income that they obtain from the actual taxpayers. Nevertheless, the new council tax rules should be rigorously applied to MPs

Sunday 19 September 2004

Heading homeward to fight again

A large-scale re-enactment of the Battle of Bannockburn was held yesterday outside Stirling. This time, Scotland came close to losing:
However, the star of the show almost failed to make the battle after breaking down on the motorway. The actor playing Bruce and his horse missed Friday’s rehearsal after becoming stranded in the Midlands with a broken trailer, but they arrived in time for the main event.
This kind of breakdown just didn't happen in 1314 although if King Robert had tried to get to Bannockburn on the rush hour M80 there may well have been a different result.

They really don't get it

The people behind Radio Forth are hoping to be granted the new east coast license:
A COMMERCIAL broadcaster is promising to challenge the BBC’s “boring” and “leftish” current affairs coverage by launching a rival radio station. Scottish Radio Holdings, which already owns a number of stations north of the Border, will apply to media regulator Ofcom this week for the new FM licence covering Edinburgh, Fife and Lothians.
It would be wonderful if we had an alternative to the biased BBC here in Scotland. What's extraordinary is this comment from the Beeb:
A spokesman for BBC Scotland said: “ Any suggestion that we are boring or leftish is complete rubbish.”
There again, they don't really get it, do they? In the mind (sic) of the typical BBC operative anyone not a paid-up member of the Guardian-reading class must be some kind of Nazi deviant to the right of Genghis Khan or even George Bush.

Thursday 16 September 2004

Yesterday's visit to St Andrews

Benjamin Franklin was given an honorary degree by the university here:

Americans are still in town:

A connection with the dollar:

Golf rules in St Andrews - even in the grounds of the cathedral:

Wednesday 15 September 2004


The Batman affair has provided the nation with a lot of laughs although I'm afraid that folk abroad will see it as an example of British incompetence. The Telegraph's Janet Daley asks some pertinent questions:
How on earth could this ridiculous thing be allowed to go on for such an interminable length of time? What in the name of God was that little clutch of hopeless "security officials" doing, chatting to this exhibitionist on the balcony for hours on end?
And this:
Instead of spending hours chatting to him, offering him glasses of water and talking into their mobile phones (to whom, one wonders), the police might have issued an immediate ultimatum: he was to agree to be brought down within five minutes or officers would come up and carefully but forcibly remove him
Some are asking how Batman was able to gain access to the Palace so easily and others think that he should have been shot immediately. I agree with the first point and have some sympathy with the second. But Janet Daley is absolutely right to ask why the intruder was allowed to remain on his perch for so long. I also think that David Blunkett should have publicly fired the head of the Metropolitan Police on the spot - and I say that as someone who loathes Mr Blunkett. The most ludicrous aspect of the whole affair was that Batman was made to wear a safety helmet when being brought down from the parapet. Presumably London terrorists will be left free to ply their trade so long as they give the appearance of complying with the Health and Safety regulations. Truly, you couldn't make it up.

It's no wonder that Prince Charles thinks that royal security should be taken over by the army, but Tony Blair is precluding that option by abolishing the army altogether.

Monday 13 September 2004

A professor writes

Professor Duguid's letters are always worth reading and today's is no exception:
The growing drain of educated people into the public sector has starved businesses of educated staff. The attraction of secure employment and pensions in the many jobs available in the public sector leads too many pupils and school leavers to choose pleasant courses of study, rather than practical training or hard studies, such as mathematics, physics and engineering, much needed for jobs in businesses.
This is absolutely correct and hopefully voters will rise up in anger at the growing difference between pension provision in the private and public sectors.

When the professor writes this I have to disagree:

Tax revenue which has been spent on public services and administration has, therefore, been made unavailable for lessening the heavy burden of taxes and business rates on private businesses.
I can see what the professor is getting at but we don't need "tax revenues" to reduce burdens on business - we just need to stop taxing and regulating altogether. The last thing we need is some John Redwood-style Minister for Deregulation.

Thursday 9 September 2004

A question

I haven't posted many photographs recently. These items are on my desk. Adam Smith is on the left but what's that on the right? Can anyone guess?

Do we need gun control?

I don't think so. Victims need to be able to defend themselves:
A man who tried to shoot seven puppies was shot himself when one of the dogs put its paw on the revolver's trigger.

Wednesday 8 September 2004

Health and the Old Firm

Now we know the real reason why the Scottish NHS is in crisis:
The study, however, concludes that stress-related disorders could have serious implications for society. As Rangers fans are also more susceptible to heart attacks brought on by stress, an intolerable strain could be placed on an already under-pressure NHS.
For the benefit of non-Scots readers some further explanation may be required:
IT’S official - supporting Glasgow Rangers can seriously damage your mental health and bring on bouts of paranoia, according to a study. The claim emerged after psychologists identified a series of mental disorders currently afflicting supporters of Rangers FC, ranging from depression to an aversion to human contact, following seven straight defeats by their bitter city rivals Celtic.
I wonder. Last Friday I had lunch with a Rangers fan and he didn't seem to be suffering from paranoia unless the feelings that we rational folk have about the Blair regime could be so described.

In an hour or so I shall be sharing an office with a Celtic fan and I shall try to see whether "stress levels among Celtic fans were virtually nonexistent due to a "feel good factor" brought on by total dominance of the league and some excellent performances in European competition." Of course the Celtic supporter's stress level might well increase somewhat if I were to direct him to the blog run by my Rangers friend. It has a bright orange background!

Tuesday 7 September 2004

Paying for the clothes on their backs

There's been a bit of a row over the vexed question of the arts minister's kilt jacket
FRANK McAveety, the embattled culture minister, found himself at the centre of fresh controversy yesterday after billing the taxpayer for the cost of a kilt jacket he bought last year. Mr McAveety, who has been subject to more speculation about his future as a minister than the other members of the Executive put together, claimed £279.90 for the dress jacket he wore at the Cannes Film Festival.
I fully understand that it's common in the world of business for compensation to be paid for the hire of formal wear. But I do know of a recent VAT inspection in which the hire of a kilt was queried as not being absolutely necessary for business purposes! The inspector let the matter pass as the sum involved was very small and he probably only mentioned it because he could find nothing else wrong with the VAT returns. I am even willing to concede that the wearing of a kilt may be absolutely necessary for Scotland's arts minister. Whether there should be an arts minister is another question entirely.

So was it OK for our Frank to claim for his jacket?

I don't think so, as this letter points out:

The ability of our MSPs to live lavish lifestyles at our expense never fails to amaze me, and the latest episode relating to Frank McAveety, the minister for tourism, culture and sport, and his jacket (your report, 6 September) comes as no surprise.

Has the man no sensitivity or conscience?

Considering the overblown salaries our MSPs awarded themselves, I’m astounded that he cannot afford the price of a jacket to go with the kilt which he apparently managed to buy with his own money.

A new and unnecessary parliament building is now opening at a cost to the angry taxpayer of some £431 million. MSPs benefit from huge salaries and pensions. Few of them would be able to do anything like as well in the wealth-creating parts of the economy. So Mr Elder is correct: Frank McAveety has demonstrated a lack of "sensitivity or conscience". Anyone holding the position of minister in the Scottish Executive should be able to understand that claiming for a jacket on expenses would open himself to public ridicule.

Monday 6 September 2004

Sick management

The NHS is sixty-odd years old but Scotland's health minister says that: 'I have no control'
HEALTH Minister Malcolm Chisholm has admitted to astonished Labour MSPs that he has ‘no control’ over NHS bureaucrats who are planning to slash hospital services across Scotland.
This is an extraordinary state of affairs, and Labour MSPs are not amused:
According to insiders, Chisholm admitted that he could do little to influence the deeply controversial decisions being made by health boards about hospital closures. One source said: "He doesn’t have the levers of power to do anything about it. The NHS nationally can’t control what is happening at a local level. He was saying: ‘I don’t have the control.’ The MSPs were saying: ‘Well, why don’t you?’"
Chisholm has always seemed to be out of his depth as a minister but the problem isn't limited to the incompetence of one man. It's typical that state-owned enterprises end up being controlled by their employees rather than by the politicians who are supposedly in charge. There is no real "solution" to this problem other than that of eliminating almost all examples of state ownership. Hospitals need shareholders, not politicians.

Shipping and Glasgow

I'm always pleased to read some good news about Glasgow's economy, especially when it concerns one of the city's best-known industries:
GLASGOW is outperforming London in the shipping services sector as the two maritime centres face contrasting fortunes in the face of aggressive overseas competition...

While London remains the world’s most important centre for ship broking, legal services and insurance - although it could cede its pre-eminent position in as little as ten years - Glasgow has arguably become the western world’s ship management capital.

Glasgow remains a centre of shipbuilding, albeit on a much smaller scale than in the good old days, but it's nice to know that the services side is doing well. I wonder why the current political regime doesn't make more of this success - after all Glasgow is their heartland. Maybe the words "management" and "capital" are too shocking for the denizens of old Labour. And besides, it looks as though shipping services are doing well without state aid. Not something to be encouraged!

Friday 3 September 2004

Spin cycle

For a moment I was fooled by the headline:
McConnell outdoes Brown on public sector savings plan
Scottish Labour is going to cut expenditure! Wonderful. Let's bring out the malt and drink a toast to Jack McConnell. But then I read the small print:
The savings, which would mean £500 million every year for capital projects and front-line services, go further than the cuts announced for the public sector in England.
And what exactly are those "front-line services"?

It's not difficult to guess:

JACK McConnell wants to boost spending on schools and hospitals by finding savings of £500million a year in the Executive's budget
Our state schools have lost their world-class status. Scotland's health "service" already gets more per-capita expenditure than anywhere else in Europe but dissatisfaction with the NHS is higher here than in England. More expenditure on government schools and hospitals is the last thing we need. Our money is wasted on this sort of thing:
A LEADING scientist who helped to develop a disinfectant that NHS Scotland officials hope will provide a groundbreaking weapon against MRSA has claimed the product is little different to common household cleaners found in supermarkets.
If Jack McConnell can really make some public sector savings (which I doubt) he should return the cash to where it belongs - in the pockets of the taxpayers.

At least they know it's whisky

My sympathies are with the Canadians on this:
Canada’s drinking classes are up in arms over what they describe as the "heavy-handed" approach of the Scotch Whisky Association, which is attempting to prevent the sale of the country’s Glen Breton single malt because "it sounds too Scottish". The SWA says it believes the use of the word "Glen", which is used in popular brands such as Glenfiddich, Glenlivet and Glenmorangie, could mislead the public into thinking the drink, which retails at £35 a bottle, is a real Scotch, distilled in Scotland.
It's one thing to object to wrong usage of the word "Scotch", as the Canadians accept:
Glenora’s president, Lauchie MacLean, whose ancestors emigrated to Canada from Scotland 200 years ago, said he respected the fact that the SWA has to protect the name of Scotch
But Mr Maclean is fully justified in saying:
"To argue that ‘glen’ solely belongs to Scotland and the Scotch Whisky Association is a little bit strong. Glenora distillery is in the community of Glenville, which is right next door to Glenora Falls, which is right next door to Glen Dea."
Canada was largely developed by Scots, so let them use the word "glen". Besides, the Canadians do know how to spell whisky!