Saturday 24 November 2007

The Scottish "Right"

On Wednesday I attended a conference arranged by the Policy Institute.

The event was titled "The Future of the Right in Scotland". I thought this a rather unfortunate description for a day that was really about the future of free market, or perhaps liberal, ideas!

The conference itself was excellent and I liked the 11 am start and 3.30 pm finish.

First off was Mark Pennington who gave a very good talk based on his new book:

The authors argue that government attempts to undertake 'cultural planning' to create social capital are subject to exactly the same problems that led economic and industrial planning to fail. In order for democratic systems to work, they must be limited to co-ordinating certain core political functions.
I look forward to getting my copy from the IEA.

At lunch we broke up into three groups. Mark hosted the Environment group and Brian Monteith led the Public Services lunch. I was in the third group, which was hosted by Bill Jamieson of the Scotsman and which discussed the economy. Twenty or so of us had our say round a table that included some heavy-hitters from the academic, banking and investment worlds. Yours truly gave his usual spiel about the Austrian School of economics, about money being created out of thin air, about the fiddled inflation figures, about gold and all the rest of the old-time gospel. Normally this gets some amused smiles before conversation returns to the "real" world. Not this week. The heavy-hitters were nodding their heads in agreement. Keynesianism was nowhere to be seen.

After lunch there was a panel consisting of Professor John Curtice, Katie Grant, Murdo Fraser MSP and David Watt. Professor Curtice teased Murdo Fraser by suggesting that Scotland now had a right-of-centre government that was effectively an SNP-Tory coalition!

This was a most enjoyable event and I look forward to others like it.

Monday 19 November 2007

Oh dear, here we go again!

Is another £21 million of our money going down the drain?


A MULTI-MILLION-POUND centre to boost economics research was to be officially opened in Edinburgh today.
Why not spend a few quid on one of these?

As the great man said:

the whole of economics can be reduced to a single lesson, and that lesson can be reduced to a single sentence. The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.

Does Britain Need a Libertarian Party?

That was the question asked in the 2007 Chris R. Tame Memorial essay contest.

The winning essay was the one from Neil Lock and can be read here.

I must say that my own views are more-or-less the same as Neil's.

Saturday 17 November 2007

Entering the state

Responding to my previous post David Wildgoose asks:
Putting it another way: Do you believe in voluntary association, and that a club, organisation or society should have the right to reject those applying to join it?
Yes, if we're really talking about a voluntary association. But is the state voluntary? Let's get back to first principles.

There are two types of libertarian. Some libertarians think that the state is necessary to deal with the problem of those who initiate force or fraud. That state would have military forces to deter overseas aggressors, a police service to deter and catch internal aggressors and a court system to determine guilt or innocence and to decide on compensation and penalties. Some of these "limited state" libertarians believe that such a system could be funded voluntarily and others are prepared to accept taxation as a necessary evil. No libertarian believes that the state should undertake any other functions.

Other libertarians go further. These "anarcho-capitalists" (or market anarchists) say that the state is unnecessary and that all of its functions can be carried out in the marketplace. Proponents of this view include Murray Rothbard and Hans-Hermann Hoppe.

Under anarcho-capitalism, all property is privately owned and access to every piece of property would be under the sole control of the owner. That would apply to roads, railways, hotels, offices, businesses as well as houses. In other words, no one would be able to enter or move within such a territory without the approval of all relevant owners. But even in a "limited state" the government wouldn’t own the roads either and the same principles of property control would apply.

What principles would owners adopt when deciding whom to let enter their property? Well, owners who would prosper in the long run would be those who'd limit entry to people expected to be productive members of society. And obviously there would be no government welfare if the state didn't exist at all or even if it were a properly limited state.

But given that we don't have a limited state, what then? I believe that the answer is clear. The government should act as if it were a rational owner concerned with the long-term capital value of the territory.

Thursday 15 November 2007

I'm a Real Fascist Bastard!

Now I've got your attention let me explain.

Back in the old days people who believed in liberty were called "liberals". Those who didn't approve of liberty were not called liberals.

Liberty exists when you are free to live your life in any way you like so long as you don't interfere with the equal rights of others. Liberals don't initiate the use of force or fraud. Using force to get what you want means that you're not a liberal. Getting a third party - including government - to use force to achieve your ends means that you're not a liberal.

So far, so straight forward.

The trouble is that the enemies of liberty started to call themselves liberals. Why? Because people saw that liberty was good, so why not pinch its name? And now, in the English-speaking world anyway, liberalism means the opposite of liberty. It means government force.

Some folk attempt to get round this by claiming that there are two types of liberty. This is nonsense as is stated here:

"Negative liberty" IS liberty. "Positive liberty" seems to mean, in practice, appropriating someone else's resources - or perhaps confiscating someone else's wealth - or, to be blunt, stealing someone else's money. "Getting grants" for Paul means paying coercive taxes by Peter. It may even be a good idea, but it's got f... all to do with liberty.
Correct, except that it's not a "good idea".

Real liberals - faced with the theft of their good name - rebranded themselves as "libertarians". And people saw that libertarian ideas were good, just as the same ideas had been when they were called "liberal".

And now it's happened again. The enemies of liberty are increasingly describing themselves as libertarians. Or, rather, "left libertarians" - a completely meaningless concept under which force is freedom and coercion is liberty. Come back George Orwell.

I have a solution.

We (real) liberals should now market ourselves as "Real Fascist Bastards".

Fascism is today's big No No - in polite society anyway. So we'd have the term to ourselves. We could then proclaim, "Yes, we're Real Fascist Bastards and proud of it." Our name would be theft-free.

Or would it?

I can see it now. A few years down the track some naive youngster would come across a piece by an obscure and much persecuted group of "Real Fascist Bastards" that explained how personal freedom was necessarily linked with economic freedom. These RFBs appeared to support a form of limited government that didn't promise "positive freedoms". It even seemed that some countries had once operated on more-or-less RFB principles and had prospered mightily.

And then it would start all over again. Some Guardian columnist would claim to be a genuine Real Fascist Bastard and not one of those "so-called" RFBs. Before you could say "Hayek" or "Mises", the chat shows would be full of right-on, or rather left-on, Real Fascist Bastards.

Perhaps then we could call ourselves Liberals again.

Sunday 11 November 2007

11th November

11th November
Originally uploaded by David Farrer

11th November
Originally uploaded by David Farrer

I took these photos earlier today.

Others can be seen on Scottish Clouds or on Flickr.

Saturday 10 November 2007

BBC screws up

I don't approve of taxpayers having to fund big sporting events but I am glad that Glasgow has won the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Better that our money be spent on infrastructure than most other state boondoggles.

And one of those beneficiaries of the state is the BBC.

Isn't it astounding that the Beeb managed to screw up Glasgow's big moment?

BBC Scotland last night apologised after missing the moment of Glasgow's Commonwealth Games victory
Come on now - it's not like it's every day that the Queen gets invited to Celtic Park.

Friday 9 November 2007

Dear Friends...

...I'm sure that you'll share my delight in hearing today's news that Abuja has been selected to host the 2014 Commonwealth Games. This is wonderful news for Nigeria.

Unfortunately we are a poor country. Unlike the Parkhead and Ibrox suburbs of Glasgow, our cities are not full of millionaires.

And so I ask for your help.

Would you kindly send me details of your bank account so as I may set up direct debits for you to help defray the cost of the Games that we are most honoured to be organising.

I do look forward to hearing from you all. It would be helpful if you would first send a copy of your bank's balance sheet. We don't want to waste our time, do we?

Yours sincerely,

Frank Lee Goldbug,

Finance Minister,


Am I the new David Bailey?

According to these people this blog's reading level is:

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Obviously that's High School (Ayr Academy to be precise) as it was back in the 1960's.

But my other blog, which is simply a lot of photographs of Scotland, requires a higher level of reader (viewer?):

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Sunday 4 November 2007

Reply to James Higham (Part 5)

One of the perennial myths about Scotland quoted in the Herald replies goes something like this: "55% of Scottish workers are employed by the state".

I wrote about this issue here:

There were 580,500 working in the public sector in the first quarter of 2007 - down 4,900 or 0.8% - compared to the same period last year.

... It compares with almost two million workers who were employed in the private sector in Scotland in the first quarter of 2007.

That's very slightly higher than the English proportion.

Now, it's perfectly true that total public expenditure in Scotland is far higher than the proportion of public sector workers - just as is the case in England. Governments spend on big capital projects and many private companies have contracts with the state. Are such expenditures too high in Scotland? Of course they are. I'm a libertarian and think that almost all government expenditure should be eliminated, everywhere.

One of the greatest problems faced by Scotland is the comparatively high pay and pension benefits enjoyed by the 23% who do work in the state sector. Private companies (with higher than average UK transport costs) find it very difficult to offer the same packages as are available in a state sector that often has UK-wide wage agreements. So the bright youngster chooses government employment and that is detrimental to economic growth. That's why I am perfectly happy to see Scotland's public sector expenditure slashed - quite apart from the fact that many of these jobs shouldn't exist at all.

I note from Friday's figures that even if Scotland had no oil revenues whatsoever its per capita tax take would still be higher than anywhere else in the UK outside the southeast of England. The conclusion must be that an independent Scotland could survive perfectly well - given sensible economic policies.

Such is the bitterness caused by bad reporting and analysis that I now suspect that independence will be thrust upon us whether we want it or not. I do hope that we'll continue to jointly fund and share the defence function should separation occur. Wales and Northern Ireland will have a lot more to worry about than will Scotland if England decides to go it alone.

That's it. Time for a dram.

Reply to James Higham (Part 4)

And now we come to the big question: what about the money?

I welcome the article in Friday's Herald that led to this series of posts. There's also the piece by Iain Macwhirter in Guardian Unlimited.

Some of the responses from England are measured but many are frankly extraordinary. I take things in no particular order but will start with the oil.

There's the chap who thinks that an independent Scotland wouldn't get any of the North Sea oil because "It's all in English waters." The only way anyone could think that is by believing that the UK is really a greater England. Slightly more sophisticated was the person who had discovered in the last few days that the boundary between the English and Scottish zones of the North Sea doesn't go due east but forms an extension of the land border from where it reaches the sea. Well, knock me down with a feather - I've known that for at least thirty years and so has everyone in Scotland who's interested. The boundary was settled ages ago. Bump off your mate on one North Sea rig and you'll end up in an English court, on another one you'll face fifteen jurors in a Scottish one. We know where the boundary is and the tax figures that I blogged about take that into account.

Then there are those who think that "English money" developed the oil, as if it had been extracted by the government. No, the UK government (not an English one) licensed numerous privately owned oil companies from many countries to drill for the oil and then the government collected the tax. And how about those who don't think that it's legitimate to include oil revenue in Scotland's p&l even when they agree that it comes from Scottish waters. Tell that to the Saudis or the Norwegians. It's like saying: "London's economy is a bit of a basket case but if we include the earnings of the City things look pretty good"!

More follows.

Reply to James Higham (Part 3)

Now of course Scottish nationalism is a potent force. Before May I had always voted Conservative and did so again in the Edinburgh City Council election. But, unlike four years ago, I switched to the SNP for the Scottish parliament vote. Partly that was because it seemed the best way to expel Labour from government. Many others took the same view and there was much rejoicing up here when Labour was kicked out. It also helped that so many of Scotland's entrepreneurs had switched to the Nationalists although there's no doubt that the SNP activists are still predominantly social-democrats.

I now turn to the outbreak of Scotophobia that's recently infected the English body politic.

It seems to me that the initial cause is the infamous West Lothian Question, which asks:

whether it is just that members of the UK Parliament (Westminster) elected from Scotland can vote on issues only affecting England, but English MPs, in turn, cannot vote on these same aspects in relation to Scotland.
Well of course it's not just. And not only should Scottish MPs be barred from voting on England-only issues, they shouldn't be able to debate them either. Indeed, they should suffer a commensurate cut in salary. And, get this. Apart from Labour apparatchiks, almost everyone in Scotland agrees with me.

The West Lothian Question and the coming of devolution have made English commenters aware of a Scotland that was previously of no interest to them.

I'm always surprised that so many English people don't seem to understand that there always were separate budgets for lots of government expenditure pertaining to Scotland long before devolution. Those "Highers" that I obtained at Ayr Academy long before the Blair era were administered by the Scottish Office in Edinburgh, not by the Department of Education down in England. Similarly, Scotland had its own budgets for health, justice, agriculture, fisheries and farming ages before devolution was on the horizon.

What the establishment of the Scottish parliament in 1999 brought was the freedom for local politicians to decide how to allocate Scotland's total budget between the various categories of devolved expenditure. (Technically all expenditure not "reserved" to Westminster.)

One part of the budget that's become a particular bone of contention is health. We're constantly hearing - at least if one reads the English versions of the press - that Scotland spends more per capita on health than England. Is that true? Yes. But how many English people have read that we spend less per capita on policing?

Then we've all read about the cancer drugs that are available on the Scottish NHS but not in England. What we don't hear about are the drugs that are available in England but not in Scotland. The two countries have separate drug approval bodies. Sometimes they make different decisions.

I repeat, the point of devolution was to allow different budgetary allocations to be made in England and Scotland. This is perfectly normal in other countries with devolved or federal governments. There seems to be something in the British psyche that can't stand the idea of differences. It's probably because Britain has an unusually centralised media, especially in the form of the BBC.

Aha, you may be thinking - but does Scotland get too much money altogether no matter how it is allocated?

More follows.

Reply to James Higham (Part 2)

After moving to London I started to go back to Scotland at least once a year. To begin with I had no interest in politics. I gradually got to know Scotland better and drove round the Highlands, visited the Islands and became familiar with Glasgow and Edinburgh.

One fateful day I bought a copy of the Scotsman and discovered that some folk north of the border favoured independence. I'd never thought about the idea before. About this time oil was discovered in the North Sea and the British government panicked and poured lots of extra public spending into a Scotland that was rapidly losing its traditional heavy industries such as shipbuilding and steel production.

I confess that the idea of independence did have a certain romantic appeal, but, despite the oil, I didn't really treat it too seriously. In the meantime I had become a libertarian and the whole idea of nationalism became of less interest.

More follows.

Reply to James Higham (Part 1)

In response to Friday's post James Higham has asked this:
And so, David, what conclusion do you draw from all this?
Well, that is indeed the big question - for Scotland and the UK. I plan to answer in several instalments.

First, although I fully accept the concept of free will, I can't deny that we are all affected by our own backgrounds. In my case that's an Anglo-Scottish one. My late father was born in England but spent a lot of his life in Scotland. My mother was born in Scotland but has lived in England for more than 40 years. One of my sisters is Scottish born and the other English.

But what about me?

I first saw the light of day in Scotland, but only a few miles north of the border. I went to school initially in Scotland, then England and then Scotland again. I took Highers rather than A-levels. But a few weeks after leaving school the family moved to England again and I lived in London for more than thirty years. Now I live in Scotland once more. Perhaps I should claim some kind of "Britishness" award from Gordon Brown. In fact, I've been to every county in the United Kingdom. How many others can claim that?

But being born in Dumfriesshire rather than an equally likely Cumberland means that I always support Scotland against England in any sporting contest. If England are playing foreign teams I'll support them, although when they play against Wales or Northern Ireland I may well support the underdog. After all, they're family.

What this means is that I do consider myself British as well as Scottish. I certainly don't feel that I'm a foreigner when I go to England.

All of this informs my views on the current political situation.

More will follow.


I am linking to a post on the Digital Photography Review site.

The thread is headed:

Rob Galbraith is my hero
So who is Rob Galbraith and what has he done?

Rob is a well-known photographer who drew attention to a problem with one of Canon's new cameras and is credited with getting Canon to recall the cameras for fixing.

The first reply in the thread says:

Heros are police, firefighters, teachers, social workers etc
Controversy follows. Someone else wrote:
What is so heroic about being a teacher?
The teachers on the thread got very upset with that one. Later in the thread someone writes about the military:
The HEROES of the war are those who willingly put themselves in harms way to save a comrade. IE, one who would willing fall on a grenade to save his comrades.
That sounds more like heroism to me. But the question I ask is this: why are social workers and teachers often described as heroes? I don't think that their work makes them heroic. They may do a difficult job, but so do millions of other people. Why aren't they heroes?

I think I know why.

Social workers and teachers are usually unionised public-sector employees and it suits their narrative as tax-consumers to portray themselves as heroes.

If social work and teaching had continued (as should have been the case) to be solely private sector occupations I bet it would never have occurred to them to have claimed heroic status.

Friday 2 November 2007

Will this smash or save the Union?

I was down in London last weekend and read the now infamous article in the Daily Mail (English edition only!). It was another of those tiresome outbreaks of Jockophobia that have become all too common recently and one that contained the usual number of schoolboy howlers. It all makes things difficult for those of us who remain Unionists.

Today's Glasgow Herald has a rather interesting response.

Thanks to Cassilis for the image.

The main article by David Leask is here and the Herald's commentary is here.

Unfortunately the Herald's web links usually go dead after a day or two so read now if you're interested.(*)

The message is same as I've always thought: Scotland isn't the economic basket case often portrayed, is more productive than most of the UK outside the southeast and could survive perfectly well if forced into independence. I say, "forced", because that's beginning to look like the most likely way that it could come about.

With apologies for the formatting, these are the figures (from Oxford Economics) for per-capita tax paid and government spending for 2005-06:

Tax Spending Surplus
Scotland 9593 9631 -38
NI 6059 10271 -4212
Wales 5979 8969 -2990
Northwest 6913 8645 -1732
Northeast 6029 9162 -3133
Yorks and Humberside 6524 8170 -1646
West Midlands 6998 7929 -931
East Midlands 7174 7359 -185
Southwest 7373 8351 -978
East 8172 7256 916
Southeast 9397 7544 1853
London 10947 9748 1199
But here's the killer quote:
Where does all this money come from? The big figure includes the UK's entire North Sea revenues of £9.7bn for 2005-06. That could be controversial: there is dispute about how much oil and gas is from Scottish waters. The exact size of Scotland's oil bonanza has always been open to question, a key battleground in the statistical war between Nationalists and Unionists.

How North Sea revenue might be divided is also questioned. There are extensive gas fields off the coast of north-east England. A split might mean 75% or even 95% of the total coming to Scotland. It should be borne in mind that the £9.7bn figure came at a time when Brent crude was trading at as much as $50 per barrel. Today it is more than $90.

So without all of the oil, Scotland's screwed?

Well, let's see.

Ignoring today's price of $94.85 per barrel, Scotland's lowest share for the North Sea is 75%. That worst case would mean a loss of "Scottish" taxation amounting to £2.425 billion, or 4.95% of our current total of £49 billion. On that basis the per-capita Scottish tax take falls to £9,118 and our deficit rises to £513 per person (5.33% of spending). With 80% of North Sea revenues, Scotland's deficit is 4.34% of expenditure. In other words, a difference that could easily be eliminated by a spending freeze for a couple of years or so.

Needless to say, I could achieve a breakeven by rather more robust methods.

And it's not as if the UK itself doesn't have a deficit.

(*) (UPDATE: Neil Craig has pointed out that the Herald's webpages are now remaining live)