Tuesday 29 November 2005

Port Glasgow

I noticed this gushing story at the weekend:
Port Glasgow is taking a leaf out of New York’s book, where buyers adore the character of industrial buildings converted into apartments. Rhiannon Batten reports
Yes, I'm glad that the Gourock Ropeworks Building is being preserved and converted into flats. The views over the Clyde to the hills beyond will be wonderful, but I have a nagging feeling that living over there would be slightly different from here in central Edinburgh. Now, what could it be?

Here's a clue:

Robert Street is a five-minute walk from the prestigious loft-living soon to be offered in the Ropeworks.

Nine years ago, the street was named by the Scottish Office as among the worst 10% in Scotland for deprivation. Little has changed.

The site remains one of the cheapest and most deprived streets in the country, with house prices having fallen by about two-thirds in 15 years.

In June, a one-bedroom flat sold for £6000; the year before, a similar home went for £2000 less. The average price of 14 properties sold in the past two years is £11,110.

With nearly half of the street's 420 flats empty, about 40% of those occupied are in the private rented sector. There are about seven main landlords; one has about 50 properties, two or three each have 20 to 30. Nearly all flats are in a poor state of repair. The stair lighting in many has been wired illegally to provide electricity for flats.

Most tenants claim housing benefit, and many suffer from drug or alcohol addictions.

And Right for Scotland tells us about a little incident involving some of the local welfare recipients:
These people have no vested interest in improving themselves as they have become comfortable on state handouts. They have a house that allows them to deal drugs out of the rain and they can afford to keep dogs to beat. They can have as much casual sex as they like secure in the knowledge that the government will keep their bastard offspring in the manner they have become accustomed to so that in 20 years time my children can witness their children bottling someone in the Vango sale queue.
I think that I'll say "no" to the Ropeworks lifestyle. Good luck to those who do purchase flats in that wonderful building, but I fear that they may be in for a quick lesson in how the welfare state has corrupted large parts of Britain.

Such a pity: the views will be fantastic.


Originally uploaded by David Farrer.

OK, but it would be a good start.

Sunday 27 November 2005

I saw him once

And I think that it was on 2nd October 1971.

Attendance 51,735.
Result: Manchester United 2, Sheffield United 0
Scorers: Best & Gowling.

I had recently passed my driving test and went up for a weekend in Leicester to visit my parents who lived there at the time. Borrowing my mother's Mini, I decided that it was time I drove on a motorway. I entered the M1 and drove on the inside lane for a while. Eventually I built up enough confidence to overtake a lorry or two. The time passed so quickly and soon I saw a sign for Sheffield. The radio was going on about that afternoon's Manchester United v Sheffield United game. I decided to keep heading north all the way to Manchester and ended up at Old Trafford for what was my first and only visit. In those days parking near the ground was easy. I still remember the result and seeing George Best score. RIP.

Friday 25 November 2005

A tale of two charts

Five years of General Motors:

Five years of Gold:

London and its colonies

I've reported on this a couple of times before. From my copy of a UK professional journal received today I have analysed the job vacancies by location.

In percentage terms we get:

London 43
Home Counties 38
Midlands 6
Southwest 4
Northwest 3
Scotland 3
Overseas 3

So, 83% of the UK jobs are in London and the "Home" Counties. Home to whom, we may ask.

As it happens, I noted another fascinating item in the book that I mentioned on Tuesday. According to Chris Carter of the British Property Foundation: "The UK is unique among the world's major economies in the degree of control exercised by central government, which receives over 95% of all taxation." I reiterate my contention that the unhealthy domination of the UK by the southeast is not the result of market forces but is caused by the centralising policies of politicians.


There's an extraordinary post over on the Campaign for an English Parliament site.

According to Terry White of the Labour Party "Communications" Unit:

England, as opposed to Britain, has an unfortunate history around the world and within the British Isles and please do not say that it is all past.
As one of the commenters puts it:
This just goes to show how ignorant and bloody stupid the Labour Party is. Don't they know the Empire was always the BRITISH Empire and not just England's? There were probably more Scots involved in the running and defending of it, as a proportion of Scotland' far smaller population when compared with England's, than there were English!
Absolutely correct, Matt. Hasn't anyone in the Labour Party read this or this? Can anyone in the Labour Party read at all?

It will damn well serve Labour right if our English friends say that they've had enough of this nonsense and declare independence, sending Brown and co. homeward to think again. Hopefully, we'll lock 'em up when they get to Gretna.

A snowy day in Edinburgh town

Tuesday 22 November 2005

Stalinism in the countryside

I was pleasantly surprised to read that some of the locals are speaking out against the proposals to restrict property rights in the Cairngorms National Park:
But Chris Sangster, chairman of the Association of Scottish Self-Caterers (ASSC), said banning outsiders from buying second homes in the Cairngorms would damage the local economy.
By coincidence, I am currently reading The New Rural Economy, the latest publication from the Institute of Economic Affairs. The title of Chapter 4 (by John Meadowcroft) is: "Locals-Only" Housing: The March Of The New Totalitarians.

Among Meadowcroft's points are:

(1) Similar policies lasting many years haven't prevented house prices in the Channel Islands from being higher than on the mainland.

(2) The main cause of high house prices in rural areas is the planning regime and not incoming buyers.

(3) The demand for housing is partly fuelled by the inflationary policies of governments.

(4) "Locals-only" policies can lead to the economic decline of the communities concerned because incomers usually spend more than others in local businesses and are far more likely to start new businesses.

(5) "Locals-only" policies prevent locals from realising the true market value of their homes when they wish to move. He gives the example of a widow in Wales who was prevented from selling her house to an English couple willing to pay £240,000 and who had found no other (local) buyer a year later.

As Meadowcroft says: discrimination against outsiders is generally regarded as immoral in a free society. I agree.

Monday 21 November 2005

How to become famous

I like to see this sort of thing in the mainstream press:
THE Bank of England has been accused this weekend of incompetence, mental paralysis and disgraceful sloppiness in an extraordinary critique by a top economic consultancy.
Here's the key part:
“This report includes little if any analysis of recent monetary and credit growth. It provides absolutely no analysis of sector financial surpluses and deficits. In sum, it is a disgrace.”
This truly is an extraordinary state of affairs. If the Bank of England doesn't know about monetary growth, who does? There again, perhaps the Bank's directors understand full well that if they were "more decisive in fighting inflation" they'd be out of a job. Central banks exist to create inflation and to keep their political masters in power by the use of smoke and mirrors. If one of the directors would admit this in public, he'd go down in history and have his statues erected across the land by a grateful public.

Give and take

It's quite natural for people to seek more control at work. Indeed, how could anyone manage without having control? According to this report:
Education Minister Peter Peacock has said he wants headteachers to be given more powers, allowing them to make their own decisions.
His words were met with a round of applause by secondary heads at their annual conference in Edinburgh.
The BBC seems to think that some headteachers already have a considerable degree of "control" over their schools:
South Ayrshire Council gives its heads most control, at more than 90%.
I don't believe that for a moment, do you? Can the headmaster of Ayr Academy decide to make a takeover bid for Marr College? Would he be allowed to insist on Latin for all pupils, or be free to expel all those who don't reach certain academic targets? How about refusing to employ teachers who are union members?

The truth is that headteachers will never have any meaningful degree of control over their schools so long as they (the schools and the headteachers) are owned by the state. Take control - go private.

Friday 18 November 2005

Tough on crime, tough on the perpetrators of crime

It goes without saying that the division between criminal and civil law will disappear once the day of the great libertarian revolution dawns.

If there's no victim, there's no crime. And if there is a victim the legal system should be geared to having the criminal compensate the victim and not "society". The criminal should certainly pay the cost of his apprehension and trial but the primary aim of the legal system must be to fully compensate the victim in so far as that is possible.

So when I read this:

Gary Craig, 42, lashed out at John Black in a brawl in Dunbar High Street last October, smashing his beer tumbler over his victim's head, permanently scarring him across his eye and neck.

An X-ray taken later at Edinburgh's Royal Infirmary revealed that a piece of glass was embedded in Mr Black's neck.

The wound was so deep that Accident and Emergency medics refused to remove the shard in case they hit a major artery.

Instead, Mr Black was sent to the Western General Hospital for an operation

I get very annoyed to discover that the criminal was faced with "a £600 compensation order". £600! I'd have thought that 60 Grand was more in order.

Rather surprisingly, the BBC posted this from Amanda Morton a few days ago:

Has the world gone barking mad?

Why am I, Johnny Working-Taxpayer, paying for their crimes?

Why don't offenders have to pay the actual cost of the crime they've committed?

And the comments are generally supportive.

Are they reading The Times in the West End police station?

Perhaps they are.

Before today I'd only ever seen one policeman from my window, and he was on his way back to the nick with a takeaway from Greggs. But this morning I spotted an officer having a close look at some cars across the street, although I don't imagine that the police will ever do anything about the scum who park on the private spaces that we residents have paid for. That would be a civil matter.

And why The Times? Benedict Le Vay (third letter down) knows what the public want.

Wednesday 16 November 2005

What’s good for the country is good for General Motors, and vice versa

So said Charles E. Wilson when president of General Motors.

At the time of writing, the stock market valuation of GM is $11.89 billion. Ninety minutes ago it was $12.08 BN. So the value of America's leading car manufacturer has dropped by $190 million since I logged on. Let's say 6,000 Cadillacs! GM's value is down around 10% so far this week.

I note that the Royal Bank of Scotland is worth $91 billion tonight. Somehow, I think that things are out of balance.

Tuesday 15 November 2005

The EUrinal

Thanks to Kirk Elder for letting us know that, sometimes, the Beeb does get it right.

Gavin Strang MP doesn't quite get it

Amazingly enough, the word "affordable" only makes one appearance in this article, but we get the same tired old arguments in favour of the status quo in council housing:
EDINBURGH East Labour MP Gavin Strang has launched a scathing attack against the city's controversial stock transfer plan, branding it "privatisation" of the Capital's council houses.
Mr Strang seems to think that Edinburgh's council housing "belong(s) to all its citizens." Really? When something "belongs" to me I am able to dispose of that asset however and whenever I see fit. Is that the case with council housing, or even with my "share" of it? Hardly, and Mr Strang wants to keep things just that way. In fact the nature of my "ownership" of these houses is bizarre in the extreme. There's to be a vote on their future status not by the real owners - we the council taxpayers of Edinburgh - but by the tenants, many of whom have their council tax subsidised by the non-tenants. It's also amusing to note the concern that these houses might come under the control of a "huge business empire". The City Council itself is by far the largest employer in Edinburgh, although I concede that it wouldn't be quite right to call it a "business".

Can we afford these politicians?

At first sight this would seem to be good news:
THE biggest-ever housing project for Skye will be launched today by the Scottish Executive in an attempt to tackle the severe shortage of affordable homes on the island.
But then I note the dreaded words "Scottish Executive". Sure enough, this is another of those futile attempts by government to solve the very problem that they themselves have created.

As Neil Craig wrote:

"Affordable housing" one of the mantras of our government is a cruel lie - it actually means more taxpayer subsidies to allow the state (via housing associations) to build outdated homes which get filled only because of their monopoly position. This allows the state to keep people dependent. Truly affordable houses are entirely attainable - all that is required is that the politicians stop preventing builders building.
Note that "affordable" is used nine times in the article - the word is becoming as common and as meaningless as "sustainable" or "community".

If politicians would just get out of the way we wouldn't need all of these plans for "affordable" housing. By the way, aren't all houses that get sold "affordable" to someone?

Sunday 13 November 2005


If anyone has been trying to contact me on my "other" e-mail account please use the Hotmail one listed on this blog. The other account is being upgraded at the moment.

(UPDATE: Other e-mail address now OK.)

Saturday 12 November 2005

Why people drive

Last Saturday I took a railway trip to Annan, the town of my birth. Indeed, I went for a little stroll to 32 Port Street, in which house I made my very first appearance. Unaccountably, the blue plaque seems to have been taken away for renovation...

32 Port Street, Annan
Originally uploaded by David Farrer.

Sometimes though, travelling by train is anything but relaxing:

Linda Groves (56), of Whitfield, was a passenger on the 13.07 train from Carlisle to Glasgow Central at the end of September when she was physically and verbally attacked by the man.
Especially upsetting for Ms Groves was this:
To her disbelief, while the onslaught continued, train staff stood and watched the man attack Ms Groves and did nothing to assist her.
And then:
She has written a letter of complaint to First ScotRail and the reply from the firm stated that they advise staff not to put themselves in any danger.
But First ScotRail later said:
“Passenger safety is our top priority. We would like to apologise to Ms Groves for what was obviously a distressing experience for her,” said the spokeswoman.
So which is it? If passenger safety is the "first priority" surely railway staff should come to the aid of a passenger under attack. I expect that First ScotRail has told its staff to turn a blind eye to this sort of thing for fear of legal consequences in the event of one of their employees being injured. If that's the case please cut out the PR-speak about passenger safety being the first priority.

Of course, a lot of these problems would be solved if the police actually went out catching criminals instead of canvassing for the ZaNu-Lab party.

Tuesday 8 November 2005

Are the Conservatives the Heart of Midlothian of Scottish politics?

The goings-on of the Scottish Tories are rivalling those of Heart of Midlothian, and that takes some doing.

It occurred to me that we might see David McLetchie - a well-known Jambo - end up as chairman of Hearts. But of course that would be too obvious. If Mr Romanov wanted a politician as chairman, he would surely stun us all by appointing Brian Monteith - a Hibee!

New Tory leader

So now it's official:
Sole nominee Annabel Goldie has been confirmed as the leader of the Scottish Conservatives.
Of course, as I wrote here, none of this trouble would have happened if MSPs had followed the Farrer plan and accepted neither salary nor expenses!

On Monday the Hack had this to say:

As if the Tories don’t have enough problems in Scotland they use his role in plotting against the taxi man to force out Brian Monteith, one of their best operators. Monteith merely suggested what other Tories had been thinking all along – it was time for the Letch to go because the taxi saga was destroying whatever credibility the party had left. His biggest mistake was committing his thoughts to email and sending it anywhere near Barclay Towers and the editor of Scotland on Sunday. Most journalists I know would have been happy to use their sources anonymously and not splash their contents right across their rags. Ethics is word not generally used or understood at the SoS, or so it seems.
Unsurprisingly, other politicians deplore the leaking of Brian Monteith's e-mails:
Even some Labour MSPs felt sympathy for Mr Monteith, concern for themselves and astonishment about what the newspaper had done with confidential exchanges between the MSP and an editor.

..."It just means people will go back to the quiet telephone conversation or a furtive word behind the back of the hand," was how one party aide put it.

Such a pity that Labour is outlawing smoke-filled rooms.

Tin ears

I am currently reading Bringing the Jobs Home by Todd Buchholz.

According to Mr Buchholz, outsourcing of US jobs is not caused by evil, anti-American capitalists, but is a natural reaction to the state of affairs in the US itself.


"reveals the truth behind outsourcing: the U.S. needs massive reform in education, immigration, litigation and taxation --or else American workers will be even less attractive to employers."
I largely agree with what I've read in the book so far. However, I did read one chapter out of order. It's entitled Culture and Hollywood's Tin Ear, and in it Mr Buchholz complains about the entertainment industry being "tone deaf to foreign cultures" and consequently losing sales abroad. No doubt true.

But imagine my surprise when I turned back to Chapter 3, which deals with Education.

Mr Buchholz tells us that:

During the 1950s and early 1960s, teen movies and songs dominated the world.
Fair enough. Then, writing about the Beach Boys:
Why was this scene just as exiting to non-Americans as to those who attended Beverly Hills High? An unbelievably simple answer: only the United States had high schools!
Really? I must have been conned, for I have a document that states that I was once a pupil of something called "Prestwick High School". Guess what - it's not in the USA. And, just like our American counterparts, we used to listen to the same music. Hell, we even had Elvis come to town! I'm afraid that even folk like Mr Buchholz - a former White House director of economic policy - can have "tin ears" when it comes to foreign cultures.

Cock-up or conspiracy?

I have always tended to accept Sir Bernard Ingham's interpretation of political events:
Many journalists have fallen for the conspiracy theory of government. I do assure you that they would produce more accurate work if they adhered to the cock-up theory.
Now, I'm beginning to have my doubts. Consider this news:
A radical review of the curriculum could see history disappear as a separate subject to avoid "overloading" pupils in the early secondary years.

Education Minister Peter Peacock favours teaching history as part of other subjects such as modern studies.

Opponents said the proposals could be a "national cultural disaster".

This proposal would only be a "national cultural disaster" if one thought that youngsters should know, for example, that the Scottish Enlightenment helped spread western values throughout the world, and that those values are good. Or, if one was sufficiently reactionary to believe in concepts like individual rights, the rule of law, the presumption of innocence, trial by jury and limited government, then the downgrading of history might be seen as a cultural disaster. But if one actually wanted to bring those western values into disrepute, to blank out any knowledge of them in the minds of future generations, and to instigate a regime that would track our every movement and control our every thought, then an attack on history would make very good sense.

Think again, Sir Bernard.

Friday 4 November 2005

Economic and social freedom

Ragnar asked me:
"If you had to choose, would you go with economic freedom (capitalism) or social freedom (indevidualism)?"
My friend and fellow Libertarian Alliance member Nigel Meek has reminded me of his excellent paper that he wrote on this very subject.

Nigel's conclusion (using "civil" rather than "social") reads:

We end by arguing that we have demonstrated that the two sorts of freedoms here discussed – economic and civil – do indeed ‘go together’. They are not inextricably linked by some iron law of human society, but the relative absence of one usually indicates the relative absence of the other. The implication that we are probably entitled to draw from this is that that those who – again accepting for the moment good faith – argue for the diminution of one to shore up the other are making a dangerous and inhumane mistake.

In addition, we have also provided evidence for the claim that - assuming that satisfaction of material wants is an underlying aim of all more-or-less coherent political belief systems that wish to be taken seriously – that free markets are relatively more important than free speech.

I used to wonder why traditional conservatives support (sort of) economic freedom, but not (too much) social freedom with traditional social democrats being the other way round. Shouldn't people be consistent? Preferably consistently in favour of both freedoms like libertarians of course, although we can acknowledge the consistency of those who are nastily against both sorts of freedom like the communists and fascists.

I concluded that the conservatives favour economic freedom because they tend to work in the business world, often being entrepreneurs in their own right. Social freedoms perhaps don't seem to be as important to such folk because running a business takes up almost all of one's time, and besides, those who are pro social freedom are often anti-business, so why support them? Conversely, the social democrats are predominant in the arts, media and education. Free speech is understandably a high value to such people. But the social democratic workplace is all too often funded by the state. In my experience, taxpayer-funded employees have no conception of how difficult it is to run a profitable company - so why support them?

So which freedom is more important to me? Almost all of my working life has been spent in the private sector and so my first reaction would be so say that economic freedom is more important - thus agreeing with Nigel's conclusion. I am though tempted to conclude the opposite.

Economic freedom has been achieved or recovered quite speedily in certain circumstances. Think of the creation of Hong Kong, the recovery of the British economy following Thatcher's reforms and the success of West Germany after WWII. On the other hand, the loss of social freedom - especially free speech - would bring about a new dark age for all of us.

Wednesday 2 November 2005

Open government? Well, open expenses.

Holyrood is acting to prevent any more "distrust":
A MAJOR overhaul of MSPs' expense claims will see every receipt and invoice published on the internet in an attempt to restore the public's battered confidence in the Scottish Parliament.
It will be fascinating to see whether taxi claims by MSPs

(a) go up,
(b) go down,
(c) remain unchanged.

Joke of the day: Will Westminster follow suit?

Tuesday 1 November 2005

Fallen on his sword

So, David McLetchie has gone. I can't say that I'm surprised. It seems that the "Taxigate" row has been going on forever and McLetchie's position had become untenable. I met McLetchie a couple of times and he seemed to be a very trustworthy and decent man. What he should have said many months ago was: "OK, I personally will pay for a firm of top-level accountants to audit my expenses and diaries and publish the results to Parliament and the media." If some minor errors had arisen he could have apologised, paid them back, and challenged other MSPs to get their expenses audited.

I must confess that I had thought of running for election to Holyrood back in 1999. Naturally, I would have been standing on a 100% purist libertarian ticket that would have advocated a state so small that politicians would only be required to work on a part-time basis - let's say two days a year! Needless to say I held no delusions that I would actually get elected on such a programme, but it might have been a fun campaign. The one thing that probably would have attracted public attention would have been my pledge to work without accepting any parliamentary salary or expenses. And if by some miracle I had been elected I don't doubt that quite a few folk would now be saying: "I don't agree with that Farrer's politics - he probably wants to send children up chimneys - but I've got to admit that he's the only honest bastard there."

(I'm not suggesting that any MSPs are dishonest!)