Sunday 31 December 2006

Keep Scotland different

Quite late this morning I thought that Scotland on Sunday wasn't being published today because the website was still showing last Sunday. Perhaps there was a bit of early Hogmanay bevvying going on, I thought. But no, the paper has come out and I read it during my lunchtime bevvy. There is an excellent article by Gerald Warner on the subject of police recording of DNA:
Nothing could better illustrate this gulf than the announcement that the Scottish Labour Party will make a manifesto commitment at next May's Holyrood elections to change the law so that police can retain the DNA samples of persons who have been involved in investigations but have not been convicted.
But isn't that already the case? I had thought so.

But not here it seems because Justice Minister Cathy Jamieson says that:

...her objective is to bring Scottish DNA law into line with England.
And the usually anti-devolution Warner's response is:
Since when was that the function of a devolved administration?
Mr Warner goes on to say:
South of the Border, the DNA of 3.46 million people is stored in police records, the highest number in the world - more than in Putin's Russia. That is an embryonic police state.
I don't always agree with Mr Warner, but in today's article he gets it entirely correct.

Saturday 30 December 2006

Two novels

It's the time of the year when I add quite a few books to my collection. Some were presents from Mrs F&W and some bought with book tokens.

One I've already read is A Walk in the Dark by Italian author Gianrico Carofiglio whom I had heard speak at the Book Festival (scroll down) back in the summer. I hadn't realised that Bari, where the novels are set, is actually quite a large city and it is interesting to read a novel that gives a flavour of a part of Italy that is unknown to me.

From an Amazon review:

When Guido (NOT Mr Fawkes!) agrees to represent Martina, a young woman from a refuge centre who accuses her husband of brutal violence against her, he knows that the case could bring his career to a premature end. For the husband in question is the son of a powerful, influential local judge. No witnesses will testify in her favour, one lawyer after another refuses to represent her, and many of his friends tell Guido how hopeless the case is, how foolish he for taking it. But he cannot resists a hopeless, and just, cause.
It's quite safe to read Carofiglio's novels before going to sleep but that may be less advisable with my next book. The world of Glasgow based forensic scientist Rhona MacLeod is rather more gory and I'll probably read Lin Anderson's latest during daylight hours. Incidentally, Ms Anderson lives in Merchiston in Edinburgh near Ian Rankin, Alexander McCall Smith and JK Rowling. Rankin calls this neighbourhood the "Writers' Block"...

I've already enjoyed the two previous Lin Anderson books - Driftnet (after reading a favourable review by David McLetchie, the former Scottish Tory leader) and Torch in which the Glasgow scientist spends an amount of time in Edinburgh that would have horrified Jim Taggart.


Matthew Parris is one of the few English writers who get it.

Thursday 28 December 2006

Business rules, OK

Yesterday was the once-a-year occasion for buying new clothes. (A man's got to do what a man's got to do.) Following a trip here to buy a pair of trousers I went along to the local branch of the Zionist Entity. After selecting a couple of sweaters I moved to the huge queue at the cash tills. I counted 31 people in front of me and had started to worry nervously about my lunchtime pint. I was served in six minutes.

On a cold and foggy Christmas Eve we ordered a home delivery from the local branch of the Islamic Entity. It reached the front door in thirty minutes and was most enjoyable.

Isn't it wonderful when folks stick to capitalism?

Wednesday 27 December 2006

Correcting a mistake

I was never completely comfortable with my decision to add Councillor Kelly to my blogroll. You can read my "justification" here.

The other day I read this post by the wonderfully named J Arthur MacNumpty:

The reason that I keep him off my blogroll is that I prefer my readers to have access to coherent writing, that I might not always agree with but I can at least see where the writer is coming from. Councillor Kelly, on the other hand, has decided to throw reason out the window and his blog is little more than a series of rants about groups he doesn't like.
I've decided to remove Cllr. Kelly's site from my blogroll for exactly those reasons.

But there's also something a bit more personal. Back in November I wrote this:

When I was eighteen, my father's job took us from Scotland to London. For almost twenty years I lived on an average sort of wage and then decided to get myself a professional qualification. That took four years of study at night, at weekends and during my holidays. I continued working full time and never received a penny of subsidy from the taxpayer. As a result of this I was able to get a much more highly paid job, but, guess what, that meant working longer hours, going in at weekends, not taking full holiday allowance and lying awake at night worrying about how the company was going to meet its payroll. Quite normal in the wealth-creating sector. Later, I did another four years of evening study (at my own expense and while continuing to work full time) and obtained a first class honours degree. So, if I earned more than average, I EARNED IT ALL.
Cllr Kelly responded with his usual wit:
I really wish I was more up to speed with computing I've just read Mr. Ferrer's (sic) remarks in response to my web, you have to read them. I challenge anyone to read his heroic account of his struggles without wetting yourself laughing.
I let that go at the time. I'm an adult and there's no point in blogging if you can't cope with a bit of opposition.

But Cllr. Kelly isn't any just any commenter: he's an elected politician who represents the most deprived area in Scotland.

Have a read of this sad tale:

Those who try shouldn't be slapped down by a repressive State that permits millionaires to parade the world stage paying nil tax, while the likes of me pays 33% marginal rate of tax, end up with £600 a month, then are expected to keep my sick mother too.
And who's created this state of affairs? Councillor Kelly's own Labour party, that's who. Radical Scots used to encourage self help and that tradition contributed to our becoming one of the most prosperous countries on earth. But for today's politicians "wetting yourself laughing" is apparently the appropriate response to someone who tries to get ahead without the aid of the state. God help Scotland.

Sunday 24 December 2006

Merry Christmas to our politicians!

Time to give them a break. You see, there's been another row about yet more expenditure by the Scottish parliament:
TWO photographs of Scots politicians are to be taken at a cost of around £10,000 to the taxpayer, it has emerged - after parliament managers decided to fly in a world-famous photographer from America to do the job.

Holyrood officials agreed that they needed to have official photographic portraits taken of George Reid, the presiding officer and Sir David Steel, his predecessor.

But instead of employing a Scots-based photographer, they decided to bring in Harry Benson, the legendary news photographer who lives in New York.

At least we can be reasonably sure that Mr Benson won't end up charging us forty times the quoted price.

Let's assume that only one Scot in ten pays any tax at all. Divide £10,000 by 500,000 and I reckon that my share of Benson's fee is 2P and it's money well spent! Why? Because I'd quite forgotten to go to the Benson exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery and it ends in a couple of weeks. I went along yesterday and what an excellent thing it is:

Merry Christmas
Originally uploaded by David Farrer.

(UPDATE: here are some of Benson's famous photos.)

Friday 22 December 2006

Who's like us? Not many, and we don't like it.

I noticed this post over on Serf's site:
Why is it that Scottish & Welsh nationalists are Pro EU. How can it be better to be ruled from Brussels than from Westminster. If the Welsh and Scots feel that their voice is not heard in the UK how can it be heard in the EU with 7-8 times the population?
One commenter's explanation is this:
The nationalist movements are statists and the EU represents statist nirvana.

They're not looking for a voice, they're looking for a handout.

I don't think that's it.

The estimable James Higham writes:

I think you answered your own question. Anything is better than being ruled from Westminster, according to them.
Mr Higham is correct, but why?.

Everything would be much clearer if the SNP were known as the Scottish Normalcy Party instead of the Scottish National Party. Almost all Scots, nationalist or otherwise, get extremely upset about what I call The Presumption of the English Norm. For example, there are apparently several countries in which one can look up "British Embassy" in the local phone book (and in the local language) and find no entry. It's under "English Embassy", even when the language in question has a word for "British". And given that the Bank of "England" hasn't been renamed makes me think that Gordon Brown could be an SNP agent. I don't believe that our southern friends have any idea how annoying this kind of thing is, but imagine how they would feel if the rest of the world used the word "French" to mean "English".

If you visit the country where the locals speak Japanese, the government is known as the Japanese government, and the country is called - wait for it - "Japan". The country where folk speak French is ruled by the French government and it's called "France". It's the same almost everywhere. So it follows that the country where people speak English is ruled by the English government and is called "England", does it not? Well, no, it doesn't. But most of the world, including most English people, talks as if that were so. Well then, why does this happen?

I think that it's all to do with the language of Britain - the UK actually - being called "English" rather than "British". This would be less of an issue if it weren't for the fact that English is also the language of the world's most powerful nation, of science, of business, of finance and also of the Internet. That linguistic domination continuously reminds the rest of the world of the concept "England", while millions of Scots keep shouting: "You mean Britain."

Some of us like myself put up with this while still being annoyed and just accept that the UK is a very unusual country - one that is a multinational state. (Confusingly, the US is a multi-state nation.) But for many Scots this issue is all consuming, and more than anything else in politics they want to live in a "normal" country. So what's normal?

Back when the SNP was founded "normal" meant independent, like Norway or Switzerland today. But most countries in Europe are now members of the EU - that's the new norm, however much we may dislike it. And that's why the SNP wants Scotland to join the EU. It doesn't matter to them if it all leads to a federal superstate - or worse, a non-federal superstate - as long as Scotland has the same status as everywhere else. While Scotland remains an invisible part of a country known to most of the world as "England", membership of the EU is seen as a better option by members of the SNP - the Scottish Normalcy Party.

Well that's it then

The shortest day of the year has gone, the dreaded cold (or whatever it was) has also gone, so I can get back to doing some blogging.

Thursday 14 December 2006

Airport life

I'm sure that everyone's heard about this by now:
A job well done is worth celebrating, but Turkish Airlines say staff went too far when they sacrificed a camel.

To mark the last delivery of 100 aircraft, maintenance workers clubbed together to buy the beast - and then consume it.

Someone suggested that this sort of behaviour wouldn't help Turkey's plans to join the EU. I'm not so sure: what do you think the French do to any frogs or snails found in the vicinity of L'Aeroport Charles de Gaulle?

Here in Scotland we're more civilised. At Glasgow Airport, the eventual late departure of a NedAir charter to Benidorm was duly celebrated by tired staff. Unfortunately, there was a bit of a kerfuffle over whether to bow towards Ibrox or Parkhead before enjoying the gourmet meal of deep-fried Mars Bars washed down with Buckfast Tonic Wine. A good time was had by all.

At Edinburgh meanwhile, the morning's eighth departure of yet another plane full of pinstriped bankers to the London City Airport was marked by the Barbour-jacketed aircraft loaders enjoying some tea and scones that had been thoughtfully provided by the airport branch of Jenners.

Wednesday 13 December 2006

Highly Effective Scotland?

Brian Micklethwait has written about his meeting with Leon Louw, the prominent South African libertarian. Louw was one of the attendees at the recent Libertarian Alliance conference in London.

Brian has produced a series of excellent podcasts in which he interviews various libertarian luminaries. The Leon Louw podcast can be heard here with Louw discussing his new publication, Habits of Highly Effective Countries: Lessons for South Africa. Brian writes:

What came across most strongly was Leon’s absolute, fist clenched determination to distinguish between, on the one hand, what he would merely like to be true about what happens in well (and badly) governed countries, and, on the other hand, what he is actually able to report to be true about these places. As he said right at the start, what he is trying to do is to amass facts that are simply impossible to argue against. This is what successful countries do. This is what failed countries do. And so on.

For instance, he has discovered the incontrovertible fact that the mere level of taxation simply is not as important as we libertarians would have the world believe. (By the way, Leon Louw is an unswerving and utterly uncompromising libertarian and he said it very plainly in our talk.) What matters, it turns out, is how a government behaves, and how it spends its money. If it behaves in a predictable, rule-bound manner, that’s good. The “rule of law” is good, very good. If it behaves in an arbitrary, discretionary manner, even if the scale of its operations is a lot smaller, that’s bad.

As I listened to Brian and Leon talk it occurred to me that they were discussing something that's become a red-hot issue here in Scotland: a country's economic growth rate and how to improve it. Even some in the Labour Party are beginning to realise that the Scottish economy needs to speed up, to put it mildly. I thought that it would be useful to extract some quotes from Leon Louw's document so as we can have a think about how some of his ideas could help our own political class to move Scotland up the economic growth league, whether independent or not.

First, what about North Sea oil? Does it matter? And isn't Scotland too "remote" to be successful?

Neither resource abundance nor resource scarcity make much difference, resources being neither an automatic curse nor an automatic blessing. Size doesn’t matter, nor geography, not history.
Moreover, sending 50% of the population to university isn't a panacea:
There is a powerful notion, for instance, that natural resource endowment or substantial spending on education coincides with high economic growth. It is easy to assume that countries rich in natural resources outperform countries that lack resources and that the presence of natural resources may be a statistically significant non-policy factor in foreign exchange revenue, or that conducive climates ensure high agricultural yields. As already observed, the most important factors are government policies, which means that any country can achieve almost any policy goal by adopting the right policy mix.
Controversially, democracy isn't essential for economic growth, although it is usually preferable to the alternatives for other reasons:
Democracy does correlate with prosperity. Democracies without market economies are not prosperous, though they do seem to be somewhat more so than nondemocracies with similar economic policies. Economic policies and the integrity of the legal system are much more significant.
What about all those plans we hear about for a new Forth Bridge (or tunnel), bullet trains, trams, new motorways and airport expansion?
Government spending on infrastructure as a proportion of GDP does not correlate significantly with prosperity. The evidence does suggest that spending on certain kinds of infrastructure, especially transport infrastructure, contributes to growth. A priori, since government infrastructure spending entails removing more wealth from the economy than spending on infrastructure (after administration, expenses, etc), it will constitute a net gain only if that spending produces more wealth than would have been generated had the resources been left in the private sector.
So let's get on with the new bridge, but no more spending on new government buildings please.

Louw has this to say about the welfare state:

There is a curious argument to the effect that welfare statism promotes growth because it increases the buying power of the poor, which increases demand, promotes investment and so on. It overlooks the fact that welfare money given to A has to be taken from B, and that people from whom tax is extracted are more likely to spend (invest) money in ways that create rather than consume wealth. It is not a surprise therefore that welfare states under-perform on average, which could also be attributable to the fact that welfare statism tends to coincide with other policies which compromise growth – Sweden. The same German people in East and West Germany brought about disaster in the former GDR and the wirtschaftswunder in West Germany. Likewise North and South Korea, and Taiwan-Hong Kong versus China. However, Thomas Sowell, perhaps the leading authority on the economic significance of culture, has published at length on the subject, and concludes that culture is important and tenacious, but that the most significant factors are economic policy and the institutions of a free society.
So what the welfare-dependent parts of west-central Scotland need is a rigorous application of sound economic policies, not more dole money.

Again, it's the policies that matter most, not other factors often discussed by politicians:

Our analysis went beyond policies per se to establish the significance of such variables as natural resource endowment, climate, stage of development, demography, geography and constitutional orders. Fortunately for governments, none of these variables correlated nearly as significantly with good society indicators as policy variables. This means that a country’s fortunes are almost entirely within the power of government to determine.
High economic growth is up to us. There's nothing and no one else to blame.

Although Louw favours a small state on moral grounds (as do I), it's not necessary for developing a growing economy, although a "business-friendly" regime is essential:

Furthermore, there is a great deal of evidence to the effect that governments tend to use resources less efficiently than entrepreneurs. The most significant point is that what matters more than how much governments take in tax is what they do with it. The evidence suggests that governments are more likely to promote growth if they use their revenue primarily to: build infrastructure, especially transport infrastructure; provide services, rather than regulate economic activity; do things that don’t duplicate what the private sector can do, specifically that they do not compete with it; and increase efficiency by outsourcing and privatising. Though there is no significant correlation between aggregate tax and growth, the following graph shows a strong correlation between ‘business tax friendliness’ and growth. Tax friendliness measures the impact of tax complexity and incidence on business, and shows more growth in states with friendlier tax policies.
So, if Scotland does become independent, for God's sake don't let Gordon Brown near the tax system.

There is a message for those nationalists who constantly look to the Scandinavian countries as models for an independent Scotland:

It finds that efficient economies rely more on commonlaw than regulation, and that social democracies (like Denmark, Norway and Sweden) benefit from streamlined business regulation – they offset the burden of welfare by liberating productive market forces
I think the key quote is this:
The evidence suggests that there is not much governments can do to promote growth, but there is much they can do to curtail it. In other words, governments are best advised to do less rather than more because the downside risk of what they do is greater than the upside potential.
There's much food for thought here. Jack McConnell tells us that Scotland is the best small country in the world. Not yet, I fear. We could at least start by becoming highly effective.

Sunday 10 December 2006

Sick note

Like Iain Dale, "I seem to have got the dreaded cold lurgi with a vengeance". Blogging will resume as soon as possible.

Tuesday 5 December 2006

David Cameron: What about this?

Back in March I wrote about the arrival of the windmill.

And now it's gone.

No windmill
Originally uploaded by David Farrer.

Originally uploaded by David Farrer.

I noticed a few weeks ago that the windmill wasn't spinning quite as fast as before. Originally even a light breeze was enough to set it off but recently it needed quite a strong wind to produce any effect. A few days ago one of the vanes looked distinctly wonky and I thought that the pole was starting to vibrate dangerously. Yesterday Mrs F & W saw engineers remove the vanes and today I see that the whole device has gone. The engineers took photographs of the pole fittings on the gable end and I've read that vibration can cause serious damage to walls.

Bring back nukes.

Monday 4 December 2006

Oh my God...

... I sound like this! (the introduction.) The whole of the Libertarian Alliance conference can be heard here.

Saturday 2 December 2006

Fife rainbow

Fife rainbow
Originally uploaded by David Farrer.
Is your money in a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow?

Quite probably: this one is damn near to Gordon Brown's house.

Doctor Doom

I've mentioned the Financial Sense Online website before. On Saturday mornings I like to listen to the online weekly broadcast, although it can be accessed anytime. This week much of the programme comes from the "San Francisco Hard Asset '06" show. Readers may well enjoy the discussion with Dr Marc Faber (Part 1). Faber produces the wonderfully named Gloom, Boom and Doom Report and sounds like a rather sinister James Bond villain. But he's on our side and lays into the fiat money crowd.

The myth of the "atomist" libertarian

I added a link to the new Paleo Blog a few days ago. Paleo has written an interesting rebuttal to the erroneous idea that libertarians are necessarily anti-social "atomists":
In response to this. It is the state that promotes “atomism”. Instead of looking to family, friends, neighbors, the community, the church; we look to the State. Government is anti-community.
Good stuff.

The presumption of the English norm

Recently there's been a great increase in debate on the question of Scottish independence and there'll be a lot more before the Holyrood election next May.

I particularly enjoyed these two posts from Mr Eugenides and Shuggy.

My own position remains as I stated back in July 2003:

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

Mr E and Shuggy are respected members of the blogosphere and show a quality of writing that is often absent from the "mainstream" media.

This morning I noticed a piece on The Times website that was headed One UK legal system? Think again. It was about the creeping introduction of "minority and religious courts" into the UK. But like many Scottish readers my immediate reaction to the headline was: hang on a minute, there isn't "one UK legal system", is there? What's more, there never has been. It's this kind of thing that so antagonises people in Scotland. We can call it "The presumption of the English norm" and it may well destroy the UK.

Testing, testing

Martin Kelly has asked me to post a link to this. As you can see, Martin's main blog has gone blank for no apparent reason. I seem to recall reading on some other blogs that the Blogger system had gone down for several hours earlier this week. I hope that Martin's blog problem is resolved ASAP.