Monday 31 March 2008

Division of powers

The Scotsman carries a fascinating article on ID cards. The apparently unstable division of legislative powers under asymmetrical devolution is wondrous to behold.

The author asks this question:

Is there any clear principle – from a political or legal perspective – that underpins this division of responsibility?
Yes. The Labour party must simultaneously grant Scotland a certain degree of devolution but at the same time make sure that it doesn't develop into Independence. The Tories and the SNP don't have this problem. The Labour party needs to ride its trick cycle 24 hours a day, seven days a week and never fall off. One day it will.

To see ourselves as others see us

One of the recurring "memes" I've noticed recently in the blogosphere goes something like this:
We can say "Scotland", but not "England".

We can say "Scottish", but not "English".

We can fly the Scottish flag, but not the English one.

Now, I have every sympathy with English folk who are angry at asymmetrical devolution. The current set-up is indeed a nonsense. The solution is a small-state symmetrical federalism as outlined here.

But I think that our English friends have missed something. It's perfectly true of course that Gordon Brown has his own reasons for avoiding use of the "E" word. English votes for English Laws, or an English Parliament may well lead to Mr Brown being reduced to selling copies of the Big Issue on Kirkcaldy High Street. Preferably outside Adam Smith's birthplace...

What folk down south don't seem to realise though is that the very avoidance of the "E" word - long before devolution - has been one of the main contributors to the growing desire for independence in Scotland.

For example:

Why is it The Football Association down there, but The Scottish Football Association up here?

Similarly, The Rugby Union, but The Scottish Rugby Union.

Or The National Trust, but The National Trust for Scotland

Or, The Law Society, but The Law Society of Scotland?

And so on and so on: in charities, government departments, sporting bodies, the professions and the trade unions. No Scottish prime minister or politician has ever stopped English institutions from so identifying themselves. They've simply chosen not to do so.

This presumption of the English norm, as I have dubbed it, is intensely annoying to Scots. Being English is seen to be such a natural state of affairs that it's the exceptions to Englishness that are defined, not Englishness itself.

The two countries seem to be talking past each other and those of us with a foot in both camps find it all too depressing.

Sunday 23 March 2008

Gulag 5

I've always felt a bit uncomfortable with BAA's plans to fingerprint passengers using the new Terminal 5 at Heathrow. Yes, it's a private company, they will destroy the images each night, and anyway, you can always use a different airport if you wish.

But when the government privatised BAA it kept the group intact. It's not too easy to use an alternative airport company.

But there's more:

But BAA says the fingerprinting at Terminal 5 has been installed under orders from the Government.

It says a working group, which included the Home Office's Borders and Immigration Agency, decided it was the "most robust system" to protect Britain's borders.

Oh yes?
But last night the Home Office denied ordering Heathrow to fingerprint passengers.
So who's right? I don't believe for a moment that BAA won't give the fingerprints to the government if asked.

Here's a deal: why don't the directors of BAA issue a bond, guaranteed by a Swiss bank, that will pay any passenger £1 million should their data be passed on to the state?

In the meantime, it's Luton or Kings Cross.

Fat government

When is something going to be done about these people?
Six young brothers and sisters face being taken from their parents and put into care because they are overweight.

Social workers have warned they will intervene if three of the youngsters – including a 12-year-old boy who weighs 16 stone – do not shed several pounds in three months.

Needless-to-say, I'm talking about the social workers, not the parents.

According to the Mail:

The shocking development highlights Britain's childhood obesity crisis, which has already forced those as young as 13 to seek NHS weight-loss surgery.
No it doesn't. What it highlights is Britain's nanny state crisis. Let's get things straight: this is none of the government's business.

Sunday 16 March 2008

Gloom and Doom

I've met Bill Jamieson a few times and like the guy. I agree with most of his writings. But I was horrified when I read today's offering.

Bill has a "five point plan to avoid meltdown".

"First, the Fed must continue with interest rate cuts"

But Bill, it's artificially low interest rates that have caused the problem.
"Second, the Fed needs to be active on a day-to-day basis, not only in providing liquidity but in removing specific blockages in the credit system. One area it should tackle is tweaking the rules on mark-to-market accounting: recording the price or value of a security on the basis of its current value."
In other words, pretend that assets have values unconnected to what people are willing to pay for them.
"Third, the administration must press ahead with plans for government mortgage guarantees to cauterise the rise in foreclosures. A proposal from Chris Dodd, the Democratic chairman of the Senate banking committee, and Barney Frank, his counterpart on the House financial services committee, would involve lenders slashing the size of the mortgage to reflect the lower value of the home and the issue of a new loan guaranteed by the Federal Housing Association."
Jeez! Bring back Karl Marx.

Who's going to provide mortgage finance when the government can decide that debts be arbitrarily reduced whenever it feels like it?

"Fourth, an early priority of the new administration should be a further, larger package of tax cuts and spending increases equivalent to some 2% of GDP."
Aargh! Keynes lives!

Tax cuts yes, but there needs to be massive cuts in government spending. Let's make a modest but important start in the UK by cutting MP's salaries to the national average wage with no added expenses.

"And fifth, America and the world need leadership to see through this crisis. This requires more than the platitudes on offer from President George Bush last Friday"
Indeed. But America had its chance with Ron Paul. What did Scotland on Sunday have to say about him?
We are all doomed, I tell ye...

Friday 14 March 2008

On gold at $1,000 an ounce

Some readers will know that I invested in gold shares a few years ago. The price was then about $400 an ounce. Today's price doesn't really surprise me at all. It's all explained here for those who can be bothered. Some may think that a bit of schadenfreude is called for. No, not really. I'd actually prefer that the world's economy just continued more-or-less as it's done for the last few years: a world in which my income keeps up with the price of necessities and leaves a wee bit left over for some extras. But I fear that's not how it's going to be.

Just look at this for example:

The Federal Reserve said Friday that it has voted to endorse an arrangement to bolster troubled Bear Stearns Cos. and stands ready to provide extra resources to combat a serious credit crisis.

The Fed announcement came in a brief two-sentence statement that was issued as stocks were plunging on Wall Street over worries that a plan to ease a liquidity crisis at Bear Stearns Cos. might not work.

Of the US presidential candidates only Ron Paul understands what's happening and he's not going to be President. Poor America. And poor Europe as well.

I feel liberated after my departure from party politics. They really are all the same. At least some people get it, but they're not in power:

But it misses the point of how large swathes of British society have been allowed to fall into such a state. Might it be because we have one of the greatest welfare dispensaries in the world, not despite it? We have a dysfunctional tax and benefits system that has encouraged joblessness at the expense of (overtaxed) work. And it is rampant welfarism that has allowed real poverty to spread. That is why rolling it back is surely the great moral mission today.
The welfare state has destroyed the West. It's probably time to just sit back and watch the fun.

On beating the Jerries

I support Kilmarnock Football Club. I know, it's a tough job but someone's got to do it, and I fully expect that Killie will win the Champions' League in the near future...

But why Killie? Well it's not just for the pies. In fact it's several decades since I went to Rugby Park. For a short while we lived near the ground and my late father took me to see a few games when I was about 10 years old. If I recall correctly I saw us thrashing Stenhousemuir, although I had no idea where that was until quite recently. Thus these strange loyalties start.

I subsequently saw the team against either Chelsea(!) or Fulham in some pre-season friendly in London and then saw Killie beat Hibs at Easter Road. Such is my active experience as a Killie fan.

I always support any Scottish team against non-Scottish opponents. Southern readers please note: I also support English teams against non-UK opposition. Just like a lot of folk up here. And so it was that I was pleased to read about the Rangers game against Bremen last night:

RANGERS last night secured a place in the quarter-finals of the Uefa Cup as they somehow emerged triumphant from the one-sided second leg of a last 16 tie which will be remembered for the starkly contrasting contributions of two goalkeepers.

Just as Bremen's Tim Wiese's errors at Ibrox last week helped Rangers bring a 2-0 lead with them to the Weserstadion, it was the defiant brilliance of Allan McGregor who ensured Walter Smith's extraordinarily dogged team survived 93 minutes of relentless Bremen pressure.

Good stuff, but strangely this brings us back to Kilmarnock. Or rather Ayrshire. After our short stay in Kilmarnock the family moved to Prestwick. I was now interested in aeroplanes and not football. One day I was searching around in our loft and discovered a large piece of cloth. It was about thirty feet long and turned out to be a flag. The flag was mainly red, with a white circle in the centre inside which was a peculiar black zigzag logo. I asked my father what it was. He told me that it was a Nazi flag and that he had liberated it from the roof of Bremen Town Hall in 1945.

We still like to beat the Germans but it's better that conditions now allow for us to do it through football.

Sunday 9 March 2008

(Pea)nuts in your bank

Mish is one of my favourite bloggers.

This shows why:

The root of the problem is fractional reserve lending in conjunction with a Fed that micro-manages interest rates without having a clue as to what they are doing. So, if banks want to sell insurance, peanut butter sandwiches, and Girl Scout cookies while offering checking services I say go for it, provided we get to the real solution to this banking mess.

The solution to this mess is not more regulation but less regulation and less government interference. The best things to do would be to abolish the Fed and eliminate fractional reserve lending, the latter on a phased in approach.

Looking after their own

Here's a rather bizarre example of politicians looking after themselves:
Julie Hutchison, an estate planning specialist at Standard Life, has pointed out that the IHT Act of 1984 has not been updated to take account of the fact that MSPs can be in political parties that are not represented in Westminster. Currently, the two Green MSPs, Robin Harper and Patrick Harvey, and independent MSP Margo MacDonald are not "represented" in the House of Commons so giving to them may not reduce the giver's IHT liability

Saturday 8 March 2008

Sent homewards to think again!

Calcutta Cup?

Time to phone for a curry!

Dustbin of history

Yes, it's true; I am no longer a member of the Conservative party.

I realise of course that readers may be surprised to know that I was a member.

Let me explain.

When I first got interested in politics in the late '60s I went through a leftist phase. That was par for the course in those days. I confess, I was even a Guardian reader for several months. But something didn't quite make sense. To cut a long story short, I discovered the IEA and learned a bit about economics. I joined the Young Conservatives and attended a few meetings. I heard Ted Heath speak!

But as Prime Minister, Heath soon abandoned his free market rhetoric and, fortuitously, at the same time I discovered libertarianism. Now there was a group of people with whom I could associate who really did share my views. Like many other libertarians I did vote for the Tories during the 'eighties as Mrs Thatcher started to reduce the power of the state and created the wealth that the current administration has now almost entirely dissipated. But I was no longer a member.

In 1995 we bought our present residence in Edinburgh with a view to eventually moving up here permanently. I decided that the best way to contact folk who might be sympathetic to the libertarian cause was to join the Conservatives once again. After arriving here I discovered that there were people in Scotland who liked libertarian ideas, and they were by no means necessarily supporters of the Tories. I kept renewing my Conservative subscription each year but when it came to the Holyrood elections last May I switched to the SNP. The main reason was to get Labour out (Yeah!), although I was also influenced by those in the English blogosphere who think that all Scots are welfare junkies and that no-one up here pays any tax. So when I received the latest membership renewal notice in February it seemed a bit odd to subscribe again to a party that I'd recently voted against. (I had voted Tory for the City Council however.)

But then there's the problem discussed endlessly in the blogosphere. Should one vote for Party C because they're not as bad as Party L or should one punish Party C because they are too scared to offer a real alternative to Party L? My continuing but non-active Tory membership indicated that I'd chosen the first option. It seemed the responsible thing to do. But here in Scotland there's also Party S (so to speak). And they are the main local opponents of Party L.

But that's not the only reason that I shredded Ms Goldie.

To be frank, there's only so much nonsense a sensible person can take from Party C. As many others have pointed out, the Tories seem to dread the idea of positioning themselves more than 1% away from Labour. Why do focus groups support much of the status quo? Because the Tories haven't argued for any alternative. Does anyone seriously think that they'd retake British sovereignty? Or abolish the ID Database? Or privatise schools and hospitals? Or sort out the politicians' expense accounts? Of course not.

I've come to the view that we'll just have to wait for the fiat money boom to blow up and for the country to go broke. Hopefully something better will emerge from the resulting chaos. But it's not going to come from the current political class.

Monday 3 March 2008

All human life is there

After doing some banking business today I decided to visit Mathers Bar for a quick beverage. This is a traditional workingman's Edinburgh pub.

I was sitting down, enjoying my pint and reading the Scotsman when in came a customer. He was wearing a pink baseball cap and some earrings. Don't get me wrong - I've got no problem with that kind of attire but there are some places where it could cause one to stand out from the crowd somewhat.

Mathers is such a place.

Bizarrely, Mr Pinkcap was also wearing a US flag tied round his neck. He addressed the barman in peculiar strangulated RP vowels reminiscent of the late Edward Heath.

"Do you serve any Scottish beer," he asked.

"Aye, Tennants," replied the barman.

"I'll have one of those then. Oh by the way, there may be a bit of a problem, I don't seem to have any cash. Do you take debit cards?"

By now one or two eyebrows had been raised ever so slightly.

"No cards, only cash."

"Well, pour my beer and I'll be back with some money."

"I'll pour the beer when you come back," replied our host.

Amazingly, our visitor returned and handed over a tenner.

"And don't give me any English money in the change. I don't want any of that"

"It's all money to me," replied the barman, but Pinkcap seemed happy with his change.

He then announced to all and sundry that, "You've had your final warning, you know."

We looked at one another.

"Yes, 9-11, it was your final warning. And don't think they aren't here in Scotland. Remember Glasgow Airport."

The local dry wit kicked in.

One customer replied: "They can blow up the whole of Glasgow and both of its football clubs for all I care. There again, perhaps I'm only saying that because I'm a Jambo".

"Hey pal, got any of that spare English money?"

"Has anyone got the number of the NHS Helpline?"

"The Festival's starting early this year, Jimmy."

"Did you get yon cap in Jenners, son?"

"What's this on the floor? Has anyone dropped a loose screw?"

Mr Pinkcap downed his pint quickly and left. The barmaid came back into the pub after her cigarette break and tells us, "Some nutter was almost run over by a bus as he ran across from here into Ryan's Bar."

Truly, the Festival has arrived early.