Saturday 28 October 2006

Providing for the serf-owning class

I've been reading Sir Humphrey's Legacy, a new book from the IEA.

Neil Record's argument is that:

Official estimates of public sector pension liabilities do not use sound accounting or actuarial methodology and, as such, they woefully underestimate the true liabilities that taxpayers owe to public sector workers in the form of future pensions.
Shockingly, Mr Record thinks that the real liability is £1,025 billion - £1,025,000,000,000 in real money. The government says that the liability is only (!) £530 billion.

This means that the employer's contribution to public sector pensions represents a far larger addition to the basic payroll cost than we would have expected:

When calculated correctly, the cost of pensions in the public sector varies from 35 per cent of salary for male teachers to 72 per cent of salary for policewomen.
In the book's commentary, Nick Silver, an actuary, thinks that even Mr Record has underestimated the costs when we make certain adjustments to do with tax rates. If you are a standard rate taxpayer, a typical civil servant's pension contribution is costing you 47.9 percent on top of the basic salary cost of your "servant". (36 percent using Mr Record's method.)

Mr Silver gives these figures for 2005:

Public Sector pensions

Liabilities £1,025 billion
Assets nil
Members (in millions) 6.7

Private Sector pensions

£1,070 billion
Assets £630 billion
Members (in millions) 14.9

The private sector is almost 60% "funded"; the public sector is unfunded.

The new FRS17 accounting standard now makes companies incorporate pension fund assets and liabilities into their balance sheets. That's why British Airways has been described as a dodgy pension scheme that also flies a few jets. Actually, it's now a dodgy Christophobic pension scheme that also flies a few jets! To be fair, this isn't entirely the fault of BA or of other companies with huge pension deficits. A big chunk of the problem is Gordon Brown's tax raid on pension funds made as soon as Labour came into office in 1997. Reversing that would fix most of the problem for the private sector.

But Gordon needs all that cash to pay for the massive public sector benefits. Look at Mr Silver's chart again. Divide £1,025 billion by 6.7 million. The average pension liability per "public" worker is £152,915. In the private sector it's £71,812. The public sector pension costs are so much higher because the benefits far exceed those typically found in the private sector.

Does any of this matter - apart from the damned unfairness of the whole thing? After all, the government can just pay future pensions at the time out of current taxation. I think it does matter. An aging population implies extraordinarily high levels of taxation in the future. We should be treated like adults and be told the true size of the liabilities that are being incurred. The private sector must disclose almost everything. Why won't the government?

Does Scotland need a commuting Czar?

Perhaps we do:
CAR commuting has reached its highest level since devolution despite efforts by the Scottish Executive to improve public transport, its own figures showed yesterday.
Then again, maybe it's none of the politicians' business how we get to work. In fact, I can't help thinking about the large Volvo that I see in Charlotte Square at around 9am when I walk past Bute House on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. Yes, it's the one waiting (usually with engine running) to take Jack McConnell over to Holyrood. Why doesn't he take the Number 36 bus?

Four fishermen missing

This is very sad news:
HOPES of finding survivors from a Fife fishing boat which disappeared in the North Sea during a violent storm all but vanished last night.

Here are some photos taken in Anstruther and Pittenweem earlier this year. The fourth man is from Aberdeen.

Thursday 26 October 2006

There may be 503 folk called George Bush in the US...

... but only 34 David Farrers.
LogoThere are:
people with my name
in the U.S.A.

How many have your name?

99.75% of Americans named "David" are male. How odd.

(UPDATE: as expected, there is one (and only one) Elvis Presley living in the US)

Monday 23 October 2006

Help ma Boab Bobbie, or whatever

James Higham is correct. We residents of the Jockosphere should have picked this one up:
But Glasgow City Council, whose senior figures include Lady Provost Liz Cameron and leisure director and First Minister's wife Bridget McConnell, is clear about the problem of oppressed women in its ranks.

The issue is laid out in "Language Matters: A Guide for Good Practice", which has been circulated to the council's staff and elected officials.

"Sexism continues to disadvantage women both as service users and employees. The use of sexist language, whether spoken or written, reinforces this discrimination," it declares. All staff, it orders, should now stop their sexist ways.

There are 331 comments so far on Scotland on Sunday.

Libertarianism (2)

If you'd asked me ten years ago what was the libertarian position on immigration I'd have answered something like this:

Just as the state shouldn't regulate imports and exports of goods, services and capital so it is wrong for the state to regulate immigration. The same principle is involved.

Of course I'd have made the usual caveats about the necessity of abolishing the welfare state before opening the borders, but opened they should be.

However, I'd have forgotten what had been written earlier by Murray Rothbard:

However, on rethinking immigration on the basis of the anarcho-capitalist model, it became clear to me that a totally privatized country would not have "open borders" at all. If every piece of land in a country were owned by some person, group, or corporation, this would mean that no immigrant could enter there unless invited to enter and allowed to rent, or purchase, property. A totally privatized country would be as "closed" as the particular inhabitants and property owners desire. It seems clear, then, that the regime of open borders that exists de facto in the U.S. really amounts to a compulsory opening by the central state, the state in charge of all streets and public land areas, and does not genuinely reflect the wishes of the proprietors. Under total privatization, many local conflicts and "externality" problems-not merely the immigration problem-would be neatly settled. With every locale and neighborhood owned by private firms, corporations, or contractual communities, true diversity would reign, in accordance with the preferences of each community. Some neighborhoods would be ethnically or economically diverse, while others would be ethnically or economically homogeneous. Some localities would permit pornography or prostitution or drugs or abortions, others would prohibit any or all of them. The prohibitions would not be state imposed, but would simply be requirements for residence or use of some person's or community's land area.
This approach has been developed further by Hans-Hermann Hoppe here and here. Specifically, Hoppe denies that there is a similarity between movements of goods and movements of people:
Free trade and markets mean that private property owners may receive or send goods from and to other owners without government interference. The government stays inactive vis-à-vis the process of foreign and domestic trade, because a willing (paying) recipient exists for every good or service sent, and hence all locational changes, as the outcome of agreements between sender and receiver, must be deemed mutually beneficial. The government’s sole function is that of maintaining the trading process (by protecting citizen and domestic property). However, with respect to the movement of people, the same government will have to do more in order to fulfill its protective function than merely permit events to take their own course, because people, unlike products, possess a will and can migrate. Accordingly, population movements, unlike product shipments, are not per se mutually beneficial events because they are not always necessarily and invariably the result of an agreement between a specific receiver and sender.
Complete private ownership of property would have radical implications:
Clearly, in this kind of society, there is no such thing as freedom of immigration, or an immigrant’s right of way. What does exist is the freedom of independent private property owners to admit or exclude others from their own property in accordance with their own restricted or unrestricted property titles. Admission to some territories might be easy, while to others it might be nearly impossible. Moreover, admission to one party’s property does not imply the “freedom to move around,” unless other property owners have agreed to such movements.
In other words, under an anarcho-capitalist system the immigration question does not arise.

What about a society that does have a state, even a limited one?

Hoppe writes:

...if the government admits a person while there exists no domestic resident who wants to have this person on his property, the result is forced integration.
And his solution:
At all ports of entry and along its borders, the government, as trustee of its citizens, must check all newly arriving persons for an entrance ticket — a valid invitation by a domestic property owner — and everyone not in possession of such a ticket will have to be expelled at his own expense.
Hence, the admission implies negatively — similarly to the scenario of conditional free immigration — that the immigrant is excluded from all publicly funded welfare. Positively, it implies that the receiving party assumes legal responsibility for the actions of his invitee for the duration of his stay.
That's pretty radical isn't it? But only a little more so than DK's proposal:
I repeat, you are not blocking the borders, merely vetting the people coming in and only blocking those whom you consider undesirable, i.e. economically or socially damaging.

Libertarianism (1)

A fascinating debate is going on among my younger colleagues.

Devil's Kitchen started it off by mentioning my observation about libertarianism in the Scottish blogosphere (Scroll down).

Then Doctor Vee responded:

One of the most interesting things about libertarians is how quickly their devotion to free markets and capitalism disappear so quickly as soon as it involves those dirty foreigners getting a piece of the action.
Given that DK is such a “libertarian”, I am sure he will be familiar with the section of libertarian poster boy Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations dealing with protectionism (Book IV, Ch II). Smith might be talking about goods, but I cannot see any reason why what he says does not apply to labour as well. If anyone has any reasons I would love to hear them.
Next, Longrider joined in:
Libertarianism in its pure form is anarchy. If you are to have individual freedom, sooner or later you are going to need commonly accepted rules to govern the limits of that freedom. Put simply, all freedoms are limited to a greater or lesser degree. I do not profess to have the freedom to do as I please if it hurts others or impinges on their freedoms. The moment we accept this principle, we have stepped away from the brink of anarchy that is the absolute of libertarianism.

None of the libertarian bloggers I frequent appear to be offering anarchy as an alternative to what we have. This means that they recognise the need for some form of collective behaviour where individuals are unable to achieve their aims alone. We need government for foreign policy, policing, defence, local services, for example. Therefore, we accept (grudgingly) the need for general taxation to fund these activities. Depending on just how extreme is the individual will decide just how large that list is. So all of those libertarian bloggers are prepared to compromise. It doesn’t damage their libertarian credentials, though; it merely makes them pragmatists.

There's a rejoinder from DK, then a reply from the Doc and another response from DK. All of this has connections with this post of mine (Scroll down) and, in particular, my debate with Bernie Hughes.

It's wonderful to see that the word "libertarian" is now used so often. That certainly wasn't the case when I first got involved in the movement and so I thought that a bit of libertarian history might come in useful.

What most libertarians believe in is similar to what used to be known simply as liberalism before that word got stolen by its opponents. Towards the end of the nineteenth century the members of the liberal Austrian School were advocating a very purist form of laissez faire economics. One of the most prominent of these gentlemen was Ludwig von Mises. Knowing that the Nazis were fervently opposed to free markets (and their supporters), Mises fled Vienna following the Anschluss. After a period in Switzerland he moved to the US. Of course, America at that time was in the grip of Keynesianism, partly as a result of a complete misunderstanding of the cause of the Great Depression. Consequently, Mises, one the greatest minds of the century, had to operate on the fringes of America's leftist-dominated Academia.

Meanwhile the Russian-born American author Ayn Rand had produced novels that were turning millions in the direction of liberty. Ms Rand's favourite economist was Mises. Rand's inner circle included Alan Greenspan, later Chairman of the Fed, and another member was economist Murray Rothbard who had studied under Mises.

Doctor Vee wrote:

Since DK has revealed that in his opinion government intervention can be a force for good, he has become a utilitarian like the rest of us.
That's interesting. There's no question that some libertarians are utilitarians, but a very large number - possibly the majority - are not. Most libertarians that I'm aware of base their philosophy on natural rights, and in particular the non-aggression principle. That's to say, they favour liberty on principle and not specifically for its undoubtedly benevolent outcomes. Both Rand and Rothbard were natural rights libertarians although they fell out over what mechanism was required to protect those rights. According to Rand, the state was needed to protect citizens against aggression. In other words: the military to protect against external aggressors, the police to protect against internal aggressors, and the courts to judge those accused of aggression. AND NOTHING ELSE. No "public" schools, hospitals, roads or welfare.

Rothbard, on the other hand, claimed that the state itself should and could be replaced by what's known as anarcho-capitalism or market anarchism.

I note that Jarndyce (commenting on Doctor Vee's) says:

You’ve pinpointed the glaring hypocrisy of most people who call themselves libertarians. They’re usually nothing of the sort: more like “what I have, no matter how I got it, is mine”-ians.

Also worth noting: all those wonderful predictions of neoclassical economics… the optimality of free trade, the inefficiency of taxation, the macroeconomic burdens of regulation, all of them… only work in the presence of perfect or near-perfect labour mobility. So next time someone chucks “free markets are best” at you, you know what to ask them back…

But most libertarians, both the anarcho-capitalists and the limited statists, are followers of the Austrian School, they are not neo-classicists and specifically do not assume a world of perfect markets. Indeed, entrepreneurship is only possible when markets aren't "perfect".

There is a vast literature on anarcho-capitalist as well as limited state libertarianism. Almost every human activity has been and is being explored. Indeed, Mises' greatest book was titled Human Action. It is not possible to have a proper understanding of libertarianism without undertaking a considerable amount of study. In part 2 I shall explore the vexed question of libertarianism and immigration.

(UPDATE: more from Doctorvee and also from DK!)

Sunday 22 October 2006

It must be all those history books...

I am nerdier than 27% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!

With thanks to hypernerd Andrew Ian Dodge.

(UPDATE: Mrs F & W thinks that I may have underestimated daily time on the computer...)

Thursday 19 October 2006

The Dear Leader

Ewan Aitken is the recently elected leader of the City of Edinburgh Council. The guy who takes £184.00 from me every month. I noticed this on his new blog:
I was very proud to see over 200 staff turn up on a cold morning to take part in the world record making stand up against poverty This campaign is calling on world leaders not to forget the commitments they made when they signed up to the UN Millennium Development goals to be achieved by 2015,
I wonder if the 200 misguided taxeaters were demonstrating in their own time. I think we should be told.

There was a wonderful Freudian slip on the same post:

Edinburgh is a creator of great wealth. We have amoral responsibility to share that wealth.
Oh dear.

Monday 16 October 2006

Ethiopia, Italy, Cuba and Russia

I was reading my copy of Airways Magazine this evening and came across this passage:
In Europe, the airline operates a daily service to Rome, six times a week to London, three times a week to Paris and Frankfurt, and twice weekly to Amsterdam and Stockholm.
The carrier in question is Ethiopian Airlines. Most African airlines fly to a similar range of cities, but I couldn't help noticing that the top destination was Rome, rather than the usual London, Paris or Frankfurt. So what's different about Ethiopia?

The difference is that Ethiopia was occupied by Italy in the 1930's. I'm not suggesting for a moment that Italy should have occupied Ethiopia but find it interesting that the two countries seem to be closely linked seventy years later. In 2076 will Cuba still be closely linked with Russia?

The rest are so 2005

I notice that today's ranking of Top Scottish Websites includes yours truly at Number 10. Devils Kitchen and Mr Eugenides are in the Top Ten too. So three of today's top ten Scottish sites deal with politics and all three are libertarian...

Sunday 15 October 2006

It's coming yet for a' that. Maybe.

Goodness me. A couple of weeks ago conservative historian Michael Fry (scroll down) came out for independence. Now Cardinal O'Brien says that he "would be "happy" if Scots wanted separation". Meanwhile multi-millionaire industrialist Tom Farmer who has recently given the SNP £100,000 to encourage more debate in next May's election is now supporting full independence. I'm beginning to think it may happen.

I don't believe that independence is the best solution however. The real answer was described on this very blog (scroll down) all of three years ago:

The Freedom and Whisky constitutional plan is this:

Withdraw from the EU

Devolve all powers - except defence and foreign affairs - to the various national parliaments

Each parliament to be fiscally independent with contributions being made to the federal government in proportion to population

The federal government should be situated on the Isle of Man, which is not in any of the home countries but is equidistant from all four of them

The Irish Republic should be invited to unite with the North and rejoin the UK with Dublin taking its rightful place in the Anglosphere alongside Cardiff, Edinburgh and London

However if Scotland is to become independent we should pay attention to David Watt of the Institute of Directors:

“Because of the culture we live in, Scots may not be naturally as competitive or as hungry for success as workers in other countries, in large part because of the wide availability of public sector jobs. Scotland is burdened with an oversized public sector which employs more than a third of the total workforce.”

He also claims that the lure of a job for life, a healthy wage and pension, draws people from the private sector, “ where they could have more impact by establishing and growing their own enterprises”. He claims this results in an aspiration for “safety and security rather than making a mark in the world”.

An independent Scotland will really need to do something about that excess of public sector jobs. Otherwise, nae chance.

Friday 13 October 2006

Hot air

Natalie Solent is (rightly) upset about climate change denialism:
The consensus convinces because there is no good reason to suppose that so many eminent scientists are lying or deceiving themselves when they say climate change is happening. But if you give me cause to believe that departure from the consensus gets a person ostracised, then there is a good reason.
I agree, but perhaps things aren't as bad as we may think. Natalie didn't want to get into the question of consensus in science but I think it's useful to remember the pioneering work of Thomas Kuhn and the idea of the paradigm:
Kuhn argued that science is not a steady, cumulative acquisition of knowledge. Instead, science is "a series of peaceful interludes punctuated by intellectually violent revolutions"
Now, consider this in connection with the climate change "debate":
Kuhn also maintained that, contrary to popular conception, typical scientists are not objective and independent thinkers. Rather, they are conservative individuals who accept what they have been taught and apply their knowledge to solving the problems that their theories dictate.
It seems to me that the "it's all mankind's fault" school is conservative in Kuhn's sense. The real radicals are those who stand out against the consensus, rather like libertarians in politics. So I suggest that we bear this in mind when despairing of the state of science or politics for that matter:
During periods of normal science, the primary task of scientists is to bring the accepted theory and fact into closer agreement. As a consequence, scientists tend to ignore research findings that might threaten the existing paradigm and trigger the development of a new and competing paradigm. For example, Ptolemy popularized the notion that the sun revolves around the earth, and this view was defended for centuries even in the face of conflicting evidence. In the pursuit of science, Kuhn observed, "novelty emerges only with difficulty, manifested by resistance, against a background provided by expectation."
It wouldn't surprise me in the least if a new "novelty" (global cooling caused by mankind?) were to emerge when we least expect. As Ayn Rand used to say: "It's earlier than you think."

Sunday 8 October 2006

Piercing the veil

The great row has spread to Scotland:
The political storm over Jack Straw’s comments about Muslim women who choose to wear veils gathered pace last night, as SNP leader Alex Salmond stepped into the row to condemn the leader of the House of Commons and a second government minister wrote a comment piece supporting him.
Mr Salmond has written to the prime minister:
However, in his letter to Blair, Alex Salmond rejected the idea that the veil segregates communities. “In Scotland, we do not regard people’s distinctiveness as a threat to their Scottish identity, rather an enhancement of culture in today’s society,” he writes.
Other Scottish politicians are also speaking out:
Patrick Harvie, Green MSP for Glasgow, said Straw is “the wrong person” to kick-start any debate about veils.

“Of course there are many different views among Muslim women about the veil and other forms of dress, but it is really a matter for them to decide, each on her own terms.

From the Tories:
“This issue is not the most pressing for Scotland, but should it arise here [Muslim constituents wearing veils at political surgeries] it is best dealt with quietly and calmly with community leaders.”
And from the Lib Dems:
there is “a civil liberties argument about freedom of choice – do you really want a politician telling you what you should wear?”
It seems to me that there is a great deal of confusion here. We libertarians are totally in favour of civil liberties, but I'm afraid that the Lib Dem spokesman quoted above needs to think a bit more deeply about this issue. In a fully libertarian society all property would be privately owned. That includes not only houses, shops and factories, but also schools, hospitals, roads, railways, airports and parks. And just as you or I can decide whom we allow into our houses - that's to say we discriminate - that same right should be held by all property owners. Just as there's no right to shout "fire" in a crowded theatre if the terms of entry preclude that right so any owner should be free to decide the terms of entry by others onto his property for any reason whatsoever.

It follows from this that just as the Bluewater Shopping Centre has the right to ban what it considers threatening clothing, equally anyone else must be free to discriminate when deciding whom to let onto their property. No one has the "civil right" to enter someone else's property other than on the terms set by the owner.

Now we turn to the question of burqas. First of all this is not a matter of race. Those who claim that it is are either ignorant or malicious. Most westerners would not know whether someone from the sub-continent was a Hindu or a Muslim by physical appearance alone. This is not about race; it's about Islam, which is a religion, that's to say a belief system that, unlike race, one may accept or reject. And the problem is that many Muslims living here do not accept the values of the western enlightenment that has created the very civilisation in which they have chosen to live. Moreover, some of them are actively trying to destroy those values and that civilisation. In these circumstances it is perfectly rational to discriminate against those whose clothing suggests that they may well come from that particular part of the Muslim community in exactly the same way as we may cross the street when seeing an approaching "hoodie" even though many of them are perfectly harmless.

So when Alex Salmond says that "we do not regard people’s distinctiveness as a threat to their Scottish identity, rather an enhancement of culture", it rather depends on what comprises that distinctiveness. Curries yes, Jihads no.

And when Mr Harvie tells us that "there are many different views among Muslim women about the veil and other forms of dress, but it is really a matter for them to decide, each on her own terms", I agree. But it's also a matter of the rest of us to decide how we react to something that seems to indicate an utter rejection of our views.

It's no great surprise that the new touchy-feely Tories say that it's all "best dealt with quietly and calmly with community leaders". The Conservatives actually make a judgment! Goodness me, no. Far better to confer with the "community".

At least the Lib Dems use the language of civil liberties, even if they don't have much of a clue about what the concept actually means.

If the west is to survive we need to be extremely robust in the defence of our values. Those include respect of life, liberty and property. The politicians, police and judiciary need to start defending the lives and liberties of the people and if they won't they need to be replaced. We also need to recognise the full rights of property owners including the absolute right to discriminate. All questions of wearing burqas, hoodies or indeed Savile Row suits can be peacefully resolved once property rights are respected. In the meantime, officials should treat people on "public" property as they would treat them on their own property. That's to say they should discriminate in favour of those who employ them.

Saturday 7 October 2006

Adieu Froggies

We send them homewards to think again!

Why Irish taxpayers aren't smiling

We're constantly hearing from our own nationalists how much better things are in the Irish Republic. You know, politicians will be oh, so much smarter, under independence.

But consider this. Over in Ireland Ryanair have made a bid for Aer Lingus and have offered €2.80 per share. The problem is that Aer Lingus was privatised by the Irish Government at €2.20 per share only last week. Embarrassment all round and the taxpayers aren't amused. Perhaps politicians - in Ireland, Scotland, or anywhere else - shouldn't be let near businesses in the first place.

The markets are booming

Or are they?
The Dow Jones Industrial Average, adjusted for inflation, is down 17 percent from its all-time high on January 14, 2000.[1] It would need to rise another 2,378 points to set a new record, adjusted for inflation. It is only when no adjustment is made for inflation that the Dow can be said to have closed at a record high on October 3, 2006, as has been widely reported in the media.

Another blast from the monstrous regiment of statists

It's blame John Knox time again:
SCOTLAND should throw off the burden of "doom and gloom" imposed by Reformation preacher John Knox and pursue happiness for the sake of its health, according to the country's chief medical officer.

Dr Harry Burns said a number of studies had found anxiety, pessimism and a sense of hopelessness had serious effects on health and could shorten a person's life by up to 15 years.

At least the old boy thought that Scotland should have schools that would produce a literate population.

Friday 6 October 2006

A tale of two Executives

Thanks to Holyrood Chronicles for pointing this out:
I reported last January that the Scottish Executive was denying its officials the ability to access blogs from its internal office system. That remains the case today.
How amusing it is to note that the new leader of the City of Edinburgh Council now has a blog! And from where does the City Council get most of its cash? Yes, you've got it: from the Scottish Executive.

Can you believe this?

I subscribe to several US magazines. One of them is the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. Because it is a small outfit they don't accept credit cards so I had to ask my bank to issue a dollar draft for my renewal. I got a phone call from the bank today asking me why I needed a dollar draft. Doesn't the word "journal" give a clue? We're talking about $69 (£37) here and yet this warranted a call from London to Edinburgh. Apparently it's all to do with money laundering laws. We're talking about a few pounds, and haven't the authorities heard about credit cards? Get used to those chains.

Wednesday 4 October 2006


Over on Iain Dale's site he mentions a BBC report about the forthcoming Internet TV station, 18 Doughty Street.

According to the BBC the new station will be:

“… a sort of British version of Fox News, which is Rupert Murdoch’s news channel in the United States. Fox is attacked for being politically partisan and that of course is not allowed here.”
"Not allowed here"!

I had to pour myself a wee dram.

Monday 2 October 2006

Michael Fry

In yesterday's Sunday Times, the Scottish conservative historian Michael Fry wrote about his conversion to the cause of Scottish independence. Mr Fry has kindly agreed to answer some questions posed by Freedom and Whisky.

1. I read that in researching your new book you ended up by becoming a nationalist. Would you elaborate on that and tell us what in particular has brought about this unexpected change in your views? Have you been contemplating this change for a long time?

Like most conservatives I don’t find nationalism, as such, to be alien territory. In fact it is part of the conservatives’ stock-in-trade in all countries of the world - with the sole exception of Scotland, where the Tory party has got itself into the untenable position of being an anti-patriotic party. Its resulting electoral record speaks for itself, and is little recommendation for other conservative parties to follow its path. I myself have been by no means unsympathetic to devolution, but hoped that it might be the means of combining two patriotisms, Scottish and British. That consideration has, however, been in my mind swept aside by the sheer awfulness of the Scottish Parliament, combining pork-barrel politics with political correctness. The conviction has been growing on me for several years that something more thoroughgoing has to be done to the government of Scotland for the situation to improve. What my studies of the Union have taught me is that the choice between Union and independence is not simple and clear-cut, not in 1707 and not now. It is a matter of weighing up the situation and the possible ways of changing it. An ambiguous preference for Union in 1707 turned out to be of great benefit to Scotland in the end; an ambiguous preference for independence seems to me the more likely to have the same effect now.
2. You have rejected joining the SNP because their policies are anti-liberal. Do you think that there is any likelihood of a radical realignment in Scottish politics? I’m thinking of some kind of merger between the “liberal” forces in the SNP and those Scottish Conservatives who are frustrated by the current state of their party. Might we even see a low-tax, small government party in Scotland while England dithers under Mr Cameron?
I don’t think a realignment of parties in the present Scottish Parliament likely. They are all still frozen in the postures of the period before 1999. That, precisely, is one reason for favouring independence. It would at once bring home to the Scottish people the choices they face, some of them rather stark – the economic ones in particular. Only in these circumstances are liberal policies for Scotland likely to look realistic – indeed they would, in my view, be the sole way out of the fiscal crisis that would face the new Scottish state. In those conditions we might expect Tories to revert to the ideal of small government and enter into alliance with those latent forces in the SNP, and to a lesser extent elsewhere, which look with dismay on a bloated and wasteful public sector.
3. Many English journalists, both in print and in the blogosphere, see Scotland as an economic basket case. It seems to me that the Scottish GDP per-capita isn’t too far from the UK or European average and that our problem is too much government spending and control rather than a fundamental weakness in our ability to produce. Do you agree?
I do agree. Scotland is an average region of the UK and of the EU. It can improve its position only by the means which independence makes possible, rather than by the lobbying of a central government sited elsewhere.
4. Many of the aforementioned English journalists are now calling for Scottish independence. Do you think that they would be quite so keen should it become apparent that England/England and Wales/England, Wales plus NI would have a reduced status in the EU and the UN?
The situation of countries reducing in size is unusual. But the proposed reduction is only of one-twelfth, since Scotland makes up just over 8 per cent of the UK population. In the European Parliament this might require a small adjustment, but nothing drastic, and in the other European institutions the continuing UK would, even without Scotland, still be a major country. As for the UN, the UK holds its position, for instance on the Security Council, by virtue of the founding charter: I doubt if anyone would want to amend that, or would succeed if they tried. In any case I think the reduced UK would soon make up for its slight loss of population: London is booming (whereas Scotland is stagnant).
5. Sticking with Northern Ireland: In the event of Scottish independence, do you envisage the NI unionists moving towards a rapprochement with the Republic?
NI politics have a dynamic of their own, little affected by whatever happens in Scotland. I doubt if, in particular, unionist attitudes to the Republic would be shifted by Scottish independence.
6. To what extent are you concerned that prominent Scottish companies – the Royal Bank, Standard Life etc. – might flee southwards if independence looked likely? What could be done to counter any such plans?
These companies can flee any time they like, with or without the Union. The reasons they stay in Scotland are many, but some sort of sense of patriotic tradition is probably one of them. I expect that to continue, but it would be shaken if an independent Scotland adopted policies hostile to business. That is one more reason why it should adopt policies friendly to business. Scottish companies will then stay, and foreign companies will come.
7. I’m now thinking of my own situation. Like many born here I have English connections. My late father was English and one of my two sisters was born in England. Most of my adult life was spent in London. How can you reassure the many people like me who may be concerned about a splitting of family connections?
The UK was an imperial power and, even without that, always had to become a worldwide trading nation, otherwise it would not have been able to feed itself. So the foreign connections have been strong and continuous for two or three centuries, and they have included a steady stream of emigration. As a result I should think almost everyone, in Scotland above all, has relations, close or remote, in other countries. My own family has sprigs from California to Hong Kong, and in fact is Irish Protestant in origin. We all, or at least many of us, keep in touch over two or three generations, after which the connections tend to fade a bit. Still, they have survived the independence of Ireland, despite the almost complete disappearance of the family from its original homeland. It would greatly surprise me if the citizens of an independent Scotland would want to break their own bonds of this kind, or would in any way need to.
8. I now turn to foreign affairs. Assuming the Scottish people wished to remain in the EU, would the Union accept us? Would the rest of the UK (perhaps just England & Wales) be deemed to be the continuing UK?
The prevailing opinion in Brussels, as I understand it, is that the continuing UK would inherit membership of the EU on the present basis. Scotland would not be treated as a successor country, and so would have to renegotiate its membership. In principle this appears to present no great problem, since the SNP (assuming it formed the first government of an independent Scotland) is committed to membership. But there could well be some thorny problems, such as the Common Fisheries Policy. In any event, the exact position is unclear because no similar case has yet arisen.
9. What should happen to the nuclear weapons based on Clydeside?
I think the nuclear base would have to close, if that is what an independent government should decide. Nobody is interested in making Scotland a nuclear power. At the same time I hope that this, along with many other matters of detail, would be a matter for amicable agreement between Scotland and the UK.
10. What should an independent Scotland do to alleviate poverty and welfare dependency in Glasgow and its surroundings?
The nation’s watchword should be self-reliance. The aim must be a liberal democracy with limited government sustained by the capitalist system.

Sunday 1 October 2006

Scottish politics: the times they are a changing

The Sunday Herald reports that Mike Russell's new book has caused a bit of a stooshie in his own party:
SNP leader Alex Salmond threatened one of his rivals that he would not be a candidate for the next Holyrood election unless he withdrew parts of his “very dangerous” book.

The Banff and Buchan MP told Michael Russell his new book – which made searing criticisms of Salmond and his policies – was incompatible with standing for the Nationalists.

He sent his colleague handwritten notes, which the Sunday Herald has obtained, highlighting sections of the book he objected to.

Russell, the former MSP who fought Salmond for the leadership in 2005, then salvaged his candidacy by making humiliating changes to his book

It will be interesting to see how this pans out. At least some folk in the SNP realise that an independent Scotland would need to ditch a massive amount of the country's socialist culture.

Much more surprising is this piece in the Scottish edition of the Sunday Times:

Michael Fry says the union no longer works and the Tories don't either.

Studying the Union is bad for your unionism. I can say this with confidence after researching the subject for the past four years so that I could write a book to mark its 300th anniversary on May 1.

I have chased up original material from Perth to Paris, London to Los Angeles. And, at the end of it, have come out a nationalist — quite a journey for someone who was a Conservative candidate for the British and the Scottish parliaments.

Mr Fry is now a floating voter:
That said, I am not rushing off to join the SNP. In terms of belief in liberal democracy, a limited state and capitalist system, I find the nationalists almost as deficient as the Tories, or indeed as any other party in Scotland. SNP policies would be disastrous. They would quickly ruin Scotland if they came in on that programme.
There's more about this elsewhere in the Times and more will follow in this blog...

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