Sunday 31 October 2004

An appeal

The Adam Smith Institute is upgrading its website. Please send them a donation to help with the cost. Details here.

Saturday 30 October 2004

Friday night viewing

I suppose that most of you will have seen the tape.

But what does it mean? One suggestion was that OBL has been in US captivity for ages and was forced to make the tape to scare people into voting for the President. Kind of like the moon landings being filmed in a studio in the Nevada desert.

I liked the theory that it wasn't really Osama but Karl Rove wearing a false beard.

This one is my favourite:

Tuesday 26 October 2004

Education again

The Scotsman reports today on a new publication from the Policy Institute:
CONTROL of Scotland’s schools should be removed from local councils and handed to head teachers, according to a think-tank report published yesterday.
And how would this be achieved?
The Policy Institute report also called for parents to be given state-funded vouchers which would entitle their sons and daughters to attend the school of their choice.
I certainly agree that education vouchers would be a useful innovation in Scotland. Nevertheless, I do understand why many American libertarians oppose vouchers but believe that, on balance, they would be beneficial over here. However, I think that the report's author is quite wrong when he states that:
"It is not the type of ownership - state, private or charitable - that is necessarily important so much as the degree of managerial independence exercised by the head and the board," Mr Gerstenberg, the former headmaster of George Watson’s school in Edinburgh, added.
A school will never have a proper degree of independence if it remains under state ownership. It's one thing for the state to issue vouchers for use in privately controlled schools but quite another for the state to actually operate its own schools. If we are to have education vouchers let's introduce them in conjunction with the privatisation of all educational establishments.

Monday 25 October 2004

Left or right: it ain't necessarily so

I was pleased to see this item in yesterday's Sunday Times:
IF you think you know whether your politics are right-wing or left-wing, think again. An online quiz that rates where participants stand in the political spectrum is proving a revelation in Britain and America.
The quiz is well-known in the US but this is first time I've seen it mentioned in the mainstream press in Britain.

You can find out where you stand in the political spectrum by going here.

The US election is too close to call

Or is it? Dr Steven LaTulippe expects that Kerry will win, albeit narrowly. His interesting article concludes:
I am going out on a limb here and predicting a narrow Kerry win. His election will be the dirtiest and sleaziest victory in the history of American politics. It will be fraught with so many voting irregularities that it will make America a laughing-stock around the world. This will also make a mockery of our claims that we seek to "bring democracy" to other lands…since we won’t even be able to run a credible election right here. His presidency will be wounded from the start, and will go down hill from there as he is beset by serious problems in both foreign and domestic affairs. From this hideous mess may well rise a future opportunity to truly reform our broken system by forcing the American people to realize the necessity for fundamental change
Dr LaTulippe anticipates some positives outcomes for libertarians:

Silver Lining #1: A repudiation of the neocons.

Silver Lining #2: A crippled Kerry presidency with a Republican Congress will result in gridlock.

Silver Lining #3: Discrediting the current two-party system.

Silver Lining #4: Spread the blame.

Silver Lining #6: No President Hillary.

Silver Lining #7: First Lady Teresa.

For some reason "Silver Lining no. 5" doesn't exist. The one that interests me most is no. 4.

Note this:

Simultaneously, we are heading into an economic crisis. Our budget deficit has reached the ½ trillion mark, our total debt is skyrocketing, and our monthly trade deficit figures are horrific. These trends are not sustainable. Eventually, something will have to give. Mostly likely, we will face a currency crisis which will impoverish Americans for years to come. And compounding this is the impending burst of the Fed-orchestrated real estate bubble. It would be a disaster for America if the blame for all of this was heaped solely onto the Republicans and George W. Bush. This would allow a neo-FDR to rise from the wreckage of another Herbert Hoover and begin a new round of statist socialism that might well finish off any hope of restoring our Republic.
The economies of America and Europe are running on overdraft. (Incidentally, why isn't Alvin Hall Chancellor of the Exchequer?) At some stage - probably not too far ahead - the sh*t will hit the fan and I agree with the Ohio doctor that it's probably best that the financial collapse occurs under a left-of-centre government. Perhaps, then, a Kerry victory would be good news. Of course this analysis should result in my voting Labour at the next British election, but there are some things that I just can't do.

Saturday 23 October 2004

Scots for W

I came across a fascinating article in the Wall Street Journal suggesting that the "Scots-Irish" may be the group that re-elects President Bush:
The Scots-Irish are derived from a mass migration from Northern Ireland in the 1700s, when the Calvinist "Ulster Scots" decided they'd had enough of fighting Anglican England's battles against Irish Catholics. One group settled initially in New Hampshire, spilling over into modern-day Vermont and Maine. The overwhelming majority--95%--migrated to the Appalachians in a series of frontier communities that stretched from Pennsylvania to northern Alabama and Georgia. They eventually became the dominant culture of the South and much of the Midwest.

True American-style democracy had its origins in this culture. Its values emanated from the Scottish Kirk, which had thrown out the top-down hierarchy of the Catholic Church and replaced it with governing councils made up of ordinary citizens. This mix of fundamentalist religion and social populism grew from a people who for 16 centuries had been tested through constant rebellions against centralized authority. The Scots who headed into the feuds of 17th-century Ulster, and then into the backlands of the American frontier, hardened further into a radicalism that proclaimed that no man had a duty to obey a government if its edicts violated his moral conscience.

When will Scots rebel against centralised authority here at home?

Friday 22 October 2004

Freedom and Whisky a stupid name

According to this gentleman.

Is it time to string 'em up?

Bill Jamieson writes in today's Scotsman about the report into MPs' expenses. Here are the details (PDF file).

Mr Jamieson expresses these concerns:

The first is index-linked pensions. There is no reason, of course, why MPs should not enjoy some measure of employer contribution and full tax relief on payments into a defined contribution personal or group scheme. But index-linked pensions, unless fully funded by contributions, are hugely costly to the taxpayer and work to blind MPs to the depth of the problems now faced by millions of voters over pension prospects.

The second is the claims and allowances of around £100,000 each paid to the four Sinn Fein MPs, including Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, who have yet to make an appearance in the Commons and who make no secret of their contempt for the House other than, it seems, the expenses system. This is truly scandalous.

The third relates to accommodation claims. MPs can claim up to £20,902 a year for accommodation in London. Clearly, a Scottish, Welsh or English country MP who has a family house in the constituency needs a base in the capital. But with the boom in London property values in recent years, the present system has been open to abuse.

I thoroughly agree with each of these points. Readers may have noticed my particular obsession with the unfairness of state employees enjoying lavish pension arrangements that are almost unobtainable by those who must finance them. Yet again, I ask what the Tories are going to do should they be re-elected. Even here in Scotland the majority do not work for the state. Why doesn't Michael Howard announce that will end this exploitation of his natural supporters on his first day in office by taking away the pension privileges of government workers?

The situation is even more outrageous than I had thought (2nd letter).

Scottish Borders Council is in the process of giving early retirement to many of its senior officers. They are not redundant; most if not all will be replaced.

Each one is to be credited with the years of service they have yet to serve. This is costing council-tax payers millions of pounds.

The council claims it is common practice in public service.

This state of affairs won't continue forever. There will either be a total financial collapse or some sort of revolution.

Wednesday 20 October 2004

"Higher" education

On a very busy day here in the West Wing of the Bloghouse I must thank Andrew Duffin for drawing my attention to this article by the excellent Fraser Nelson of the Scotsman. Mr Nelson is calling for a mass introduction of education vouchers in Scotland along the lines of what has happened in Sweden, a country normally praised by our leftist establishment. The only thing I have to add is in connection with this statement:
This is a political decision: the money is already there to buy a far better system. In Glasgow, for example, it costs £4,800 a year to educate a child at secondary school: Hutcheson’s Grammar School charges £6,500 a year. The difference is £30 a week - something any working-class parent would pay, given the chance.
If most of Scotland's schools were privatised the dramatic extension of market share would bring about a large reduction in costs. It is very likely that fees per capita would be considerably less than £6,500 a year. The "working-class parent" would probably have to find nothing like £30 a week. Besides that, an excellent article and as someone who is the proud holder of five Highers (English, Maths, Science, French and History) I do rather fancy the idea of them pushing the A-level into the dustbin of history. David Starkey please note!

Monday 18 October 2004

One law for some...

It looks as though Westminster will lean on the Scottish Parliament to reduce the impact of the "right to roam" legislation:
SCOTLAND could get its first trespass law under emergency rules being considered to protect royal palaces.

Under the devolution settlement, the Home Office has no responsibility for either Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh or Balmoral in Deeside.

But a department official revealed that the Home Office is "in negotiations" with the Scottish Executive about the possibility of the proposed law applying in and around the Scottish palaces.

Of course the Queen should be protected but shouldn't all property owners be able to stop trespassing? I rather think that Her Majesty would agree.

Scotland "not important" - English television presenter

The well-known historian David Starkey has caused a bit of a row over his claim that Scotland is "not important". Remarks of this sort are a little tedious but there is a great deal of truth in this:
Your own political elite don’t want independence because they love swanning around as Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Although the Prime Minister was born here I don't think that he sees himself as Scottish. On the other hand Gordon Brown and people like Robin Cook, John Reid and Michael Martin are certainly Scots. I think that Dr Starkey is correct: Scotland won't choose to become independent until its leading politicians and a sizable proportion of the business community support the idea. Whether it's a good idea is quite another matter.

Saturday 16 October 2004

My visit to Texas

I was unable to blog for a few days earlier this week because I had to make an unexpected visit to the Lone Star State. It was indeed a great privilege to be invited to the gracious home of President George W Bush. You may be wondering why I was so honoured (or should that be honored?). I am a distant relative of a prominent resident of the Western White House, who says:
My blood line can be traced all the way back to Farquhar the Great, lapdog of famed Scotsman Robert the Bruce!
Farquhar, Farrer - obviously we are related.

If you click on the floorplan of the attic you will note the rather impressive Smith & Wesson Home War Games Arena in which the President explained to me how Scotland could solve its burgeoning crime problem.

My wife and I were able to "visit with" the President and First Lady in the tasteful Jack Daniels Northwest Sitting Room, which is to be found on the Second Floor. Sadly, there wasn't time to also see the Adolph Coors Northeast Sitting Room. As this was a family visit, the President thought it best not to show me the Hooters Breakfast Nook (First Floor). What a pity.

The President has asked me to convey his best wishes to the people of Scotland and looks forward to inviting First Minister McConnell to Crawford. As well as examining the modest AK-47 Appreciation Room (Second Floor), Jack will love the Halliburton Den & Smoking Lounge where he can enjoy a cigar without upsetting his pesky Liberal (sic) pardners in the Scottish Executive.

The President asked me to let Scots know about the new United States Department of Faith, something so obviously needed back in the Old Country. With such an organisation over here Rangers and Celtic fans will walk joyfully hand in hand into the sunset.

All in all, we had a wonderful trip and are so looking forward to our next visit. As long as the Blairs aren't there at the same time of course.

Friday 15 October 2004

It's the economy, stupid

Much has been made recently of Scotland's falling population. I have no problem at all with people coming here from other countries to work and of course many millions are already free to move to Scotland from elsewhere in the EU, but don't. But surely the problem is not a lack of immigrants but a low-growth economy. Why else would so many young qualified Scots seek career opportunities elsewhere? Fortunately, most non-political opinion seems to understand that the solution is the adoption of pro-business policies.

I am afraid that David Land is wrong when he writes:

I fear that party politics could be the enemy of action. No political party gains by having Scotland fail to provide opportunities for future generations. Scotland deserves better.
The Labour Party does indeed benefit from our stagnant economy. The creation of hundreds of thousands of public sector employees who enjoy above-average pay and benefits gives Labour an almost unbeatable electoral advantage. It is the deadweight of those state employees that drags down the productive sector thus causing the low growth in our economy. That's why we can't expect Labour to fix things.

Shaking and stirring the media

As befits a son of Edinburgh, Sean Connery was the real James Bond. I was very disappointed to read that the great man has called for state control of the Scottish media:
In a staggering attempt to settle old scores, the veteran actor launched a bitter attack on the Scottish media, calling on MSPs to pass a law to prevent negative attacks on the parliament. Sir Sean let rip during a BBC radio interview, insisting they only way to deal with the press was to "sort them out".
If Sean wants a pro-nationalist voice in the Scottish media he should start his own newspaper, not call for censorship. With Ursula Andress on page 3 how could he go wrong?

Do you earn 80 grand?

I noticed a letter in the Herald yesterday from a Dr Ian McKee. The name seemed familiar and then I remembered that a gentleman of that name was SNP candidate in my constituency at the last Scottish parliamentary elections. He remains an SNP candidate.

Dr McKee was writing about the pension crisis that has been in the news so much this week.

According to the good doctor:

"... the state pension was over 20% of average earnings in the eighties but has now fallen to little more than 5%."
The state pension is close to £4,000 PA. That would mean that "average earnings" are around £80,000. Somehow I don't think so. Then I had a look at the chart in Wednesday's Herald. The 5% figure is a forecast for the year 2060 or thereabouts. Presumably the paper is expecting a continuation of growth in earnings ahead of increases in the state pension. The chart actually shows that the state pension is around 15% of average earnings at the present time, not 5%. That fits in with an average wage of something like £26,000 - a bit nearer the mark than £80K!

If politicians want to gain a bit more respect it would help if they had a basic understanding of facts and figures.

Monday 11 October 2004

North and South

I enjoyed living in London and in the unlikely event of winning the lottery (it helps to buy a ticket) I would consider the purchase of a modest pied-a-terre in Kensington. In due course I would be able to partake of a dram or two with the constituency's next MP.

The only time I ever met Sir Malcolm was in the Edinburgh branch of Borders where I suggested to the former Foreign Secretary that he buy a copy of Reason magazine. During our brief conversation the temporarily resting politician congratulated me on moving from the Great Wen to Edinburgh and assured me that the quality of life was far preferable here to that possible down south. I have to say that Sir Malcolm is correct and my visits to the Royal Borough would be occasional. After all, when a man is tired of Edinburgh, he is tired of life.

How then is one to explain this snippet from the Sunday Times?

Incidentally, it’s a brave company that announces its new worldwide headquarters are to be in Aberdeen. Before I am berated for central belt parochialism, let me point out that I am only reflecting the views of professional headhunters — if RBS Group has difficulty in attracting the right people to Scotland, how much harder is First going to have to work to bring them to Aberdeen?
Why would the Royal Bank have difficulty in persuading the "right people" to come to work at its Edinburgh headquarters? It's now the world's fifth largest bank and there must be a wealth of career opportunities in such an organisation. I suspect that it's because ambitious executives worry about moving themselves and their families to Scotland in case the job doesn't work out. There are indeed several other large financial institutions here, but nothing like as many as in London. Having alternative career options is important. Imagine how much more of a problem this is in less successful "provincial" cities than Edinburgh.

Some time ago I wrote about the unnatural dominance of London over the rest of Britain:

I remain convinced that British national life (think of our transport "system") is distorted by the dominance of the southeast. This in turn is largely the result of more than 40% of the economy being under state control and being almost entirely run from one end of a long and narrow country. My own preference is for that 40% to be reduced to more like 4%. Then it wouldn't matter too much where the capital was located - just like Switzerland in its good old days. If we don't want to fire all of those public servants we should move the capital to the other end of the country. Sir Humphrey will enjoy living in Easterhouse.
Far more than our transport system suffers from the London distortion: it also sucks the life out of the country's other cities. Incidentally, would an American ever describe Chicago as being in "the provinces"? Does Munich look up to Berlin?

I recognise that Malcolm Rifkind's post-election loyalties should be to his London constituency. Hopefully though he won't forget the city that gave him his start in politics and Parliament. We need politicians who will begin the necessary decentralisation of the UK. Sir Malcolm and his party should work towards a situation in which careers can be successfully pursued in all parts of the country. And yes, that includes Aberdeen.

Sunday 10 October 2004

A coffee I don't tend to think of Glasgow as being a centre of political correctnessof colour please...

but the disease has apparently reached the Dear Green Place:
THE world is going mad in its abuse of political correctness. Staff at the coffee shop in the Mitchell Library in Glasgow last week allegedly refused to serve a customer who had ordered a 'black coffee', claiming that it was a racist phrase - he would only get his cuppa if he used the terminology 'coffee without milk'. I wonder how he managed to ask for white sugar?
I suppose that we should remember that the Mitchell is rather close to Glasgow's West End, an area that is just a wee bit more pretentious than elsewhere in the city. Now if they were to ban orange juice and green salad, I would fully understand.

Politician gets honest job!

Scotland's first minister has decided to become an entrepreneur:
JACK McConnell is preparing to open privately-run ‘mini-hospitals’ across Scotland in an effort to cut the country’s 112,000-strong waiting list for treatment.
Isn't this good news? Instead of living the glamorous life of a statesman who gets to meet the Queen and Sean Connery McConnell is to join the ranks of the real wealth creators by investing in hospitals.

Silly me! Let's read on:

The First Minister has ordered his new health minister, Andy Kerr, to examine the case for building dedicated Diagnostic and Treatment Centres (DTCs).
Private healthcare providers are being called in to run more than 20 such centres in England, alongside others run by the NHS, with the aim of carrying out 250,000 operations by next year. McConnell has so far held back from similar plans in Scotland, prompting claims that he has failed to grasp reform. But following last week’s reshuffle he has told Kerr to lay the ground for a ‘Scottish version’ of the scheme.
Oh dear. Our Jack isn't going to join the business world after all. Someone else will be expected to do the hard work, risking their capital and reputation while the first minister gets to "open" the new hospitals.

Thursday 7 October 2004

In search of prudence

It's no great surprise to read that our council taxes will be going up again. The Tories are speaking out:
David McLetchie, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, said: "We warned when the spending announcement was made that council tax was set to soar once again. "We would use planned increases in the budget to make substantial reductions in council tax of up to 45 per cent."
So can we look forward to tax cuts when the Conservatives take control of our town halls? Perhaps not. In today's Scotsman there is an interesting anecdote from ex-councillor George Kerevan:
WHEN I was a local-authority committee chairman, there was a little ritual that happened every year: the Tory opposition would denounce me for financial incompetence. My sin was systematically to underspend the departmental budget. This used to perplex me, as I thought the whole point of financial prudence was to deliver on goals as cheaply as possible, and that Tories - of all people - should know that. Silly me! Welcome to the wacky world of public finance, where sensible financial accountability is as rare as a Tory in Motherwell.
So the Edinburgh Conservatives used to blame the Labour city council for spending too little! Some of us have a sneaking feeling that nothing much has changed. Listening to the Tories at their Bournemouth conference doesn't fill me with confidence that spending would be cut by a future Howard government. I think I'd rather have Mr Kerevan's "financial incompetence".

Is the bus pass past its sell-by date?

I must admit that the Council-owned Lothian Buses provides an excellent service in Edinburgh. When I first bought a flat here in 1995 the cheapest fare was 45p. It then rose to 50p, then 60p and now is 80p. That's quite a jump in nine years. But should we blame pensioners?
BUS passengers in Edinburgh are "unjustly" paying artificially high fares to help fund free travel for old-age pensioners, the city’s main operator said yesterday.
Some bus users don't like the subsidies:
The National Federation of Bus Users expressed fears about the "huge cost" of such schemes and agreed that it was unfair. Dr Caroline Cahm, its chairman, told the committee she was concerned that pensioners were receiving preferential treatment. She said: "It is not consistent with natural justice to subsidise free travel for one section of the community at the expense of the others."
In principle I agree with this. But one reason why (some) pensioners are poor is because they have to pay tax on their income from savings. After forty-odd years of working and paying tax it's a bit much to be clobbered again on one's interest earnings. If we abolished this tax - even if only for pensioners - then it might be uncontroversial to get rid of the subsidised bus fares.

Wednesday 6 October 2004

Voting Tory

Mr McCulloch's heart is clearly in the right place but he wonders why people don't vote for the Conservatives:
One can only draw the simple conclusion that voters are actually content to pay more tax for less service, to integrate into Europe, to support burgeoning bureaucracy, to pay for someone else’s index-linked, inflation-proof pension.
Rather a lot of the voters do enjoy those wonderful pensions and I know that some Tories are afraid of upsetting them. The majority would indeed benefit form the policies enumerated by Mr McCulloch. They don't vote for the Conservatives because no one believes for a moment that the party would actually implement any of Mr McCulloch's excellent suggestions.

Tuesday 5 October 2004

Why are they emigrating?

It's sad that the Martin's son and his family have been forced to go abroad to find a job. And it is indeed true that we have a low-wage and high-price economy.

But the Martin's "solution" is for politicians to:

take measures to lower the cost of housing radically, and to provide cheaper child care.
I have a funny feeling that the Martins don't mean a culling of our planning regime nor a freeing up of the child care market by eliminating red tape. Sadly it sounds like they want more government spending for their pet projects. If we want Scotland's skilled young people to remain here we need less government activity, not more. Then we could enjoy a thriving high-wage and low-price economy.

Monday 4 October 2004

Who trusts the Tories?

Not even senior Conservatives it seems:
A former shadow cabinet member has attacked Mr Howard for calling Tony Blair a "liar", and other senior Tories are saying he is too cowardly on tax. The first battle is set to be played out today as Oliver Letwin, the shadow chancellor, will tell party members he cannot propose tax cuts during this week’s conference because no one would believe him if he did.
I read the speech made by Mr Letwin to the Scottish Conservative Conference earlier this year and was distinctly unimpressed. No one will believe that the Tories will cut tax until they admit that state spending needs to be slashed and it's a pretty poor "conservative" party that can't see where to start. Getting rid of state employees' pension schemes would be a useful beginning. On taxation, the Tories should promise the abolition of all inheritance tax and also get rid of taxes on savings.

Friday 1 October 2004

Money out of thin air

The usual suspects are concerned that Scottish graduates are finding it difficult to "get on the property ladder".

(Warning from your friendly neighbourhood blogger: ladders can go down as well as up.)

NEARLY two-thirds of university graduates under the age of 30 cannot afford to get on the property ladder, according to research published yesterday.
Right on cue, the opposition's education honcho has the answer:
Fiona Hyslop, the SNP education spokeswoman, said that unless ministers act, long-term consequences for the Scottish economy were enormous. She said: "Young people saddled with debt suffer individually but are also a drag on the economy. We have to make sure they are not burdened down with debt in the first place, which is why we would replace the student loan system with grants. The Executive says that the economy is their number one priority, but they don’t seem to realise that graduate debt prevents young people from contributing to the economy or wanting to start up their own business. By lifting students out of debt, we will kick-start the economy. Ministers are ignoring this issue at their peril."
Clearly Ms Hyslop hasn't heard of Frederic Bastiat and the fallacy of the broken window. Students with less debt may well go and spend their (ours actually) new found wealth on "kick-starting" the economy but the poor taxpayer who has to fund these students (hopefully not of economics) will of necessity be "kick-stopping" the economy as he will be all the poorer.