Sunday 29 November 2009

Dog and Cheese

There's no doubt about what's most exercised the Scottish blogosphere this week.

So far I've spotted these:

Advanced Media Watch

Andrew Reeves

Fraser Macpherson

Joan Mc Alpine

SNP Tactical Voting

The Grumpy Spindoctor


Planet Politics

Yapping Yousuf


Dark Lochnagar


and, I'm guessing here:

Scunnert Nation.

This week's episode is on the front page of today's Scotland on Sunday:

THE SNP was last night embroiled in a scandal after an aide to the Constitution Minister used the internet to smear political rivals by posting scurrilous allegations about their private lives.

Mark MacLachlan, 46, has been forced to quit as Michael Russell's office manager after he used his blog and other electronic communications to spread abusive and defamatory messages about senior Labour and Tory figures.

And last week another nationalist blog closed down.

Joan McAlpine asks some good questions that go beyond the "smeargate" angle:

The whole row throws up some very interesting questions about mainstream media v bloggers. Is it reasonable to expect bloggers to play by the same rules as professional commentators? Are bloggers doing what journalists used to do, and should still be doing: getting up the noses of the powerful? Or do they use their anonymity to defame and offend in a way which is unacceptable?
I'd say yes, yes, and they shouldn't.

Of course we bloggers have to accept that we are subject to the same laws as are the mainstream. The fact that we should all enjoy total freedom of speech is another matter for another time.

And yes, bloggers are increasingly doing what the mainstream is failing to do. The exposure of the global warming scam is a good example. And I personally would be very much poorer if I'd taken investment advice from the regular press instead of reading good blogs and books written by those bloggers.

On the anonymity question, I am more ambivalent. I post under my real name - there really is a David Farrer. But (without defending defamation) I can see why others may not wish to go down that route. Especially here in Scotland.

And what's so different about Scotland, you might ask.

Until 2002 I'd spent the whole of my adult life in London. One of the first things that I was told when I came here is that "Edinburgh is a small place." And it's true. So is probably everywhere else outside London. What you quickly learn here is that everyone really does seem to know everyone else, especially in business/professional/media/political circles. The question is: how does that affect bloggers?

I think that it means that we should concentrate on ideology and not personalities. I find it quite healthy that folk with very different ideas can have a good argument over a pint or two without coming to blows. Such behaviour is necessary in a smaller city. Of course, it helps that we libertarians have the correct ideas and that the others don't...

Old Etonian becomes party leader


Saturday 28 November 2009

Bella Caledonia

This morning I went along to the first session of this event. I sat beside Christopher Harvie MSP whom I'd met once before and later had a chat with Jeff of SNP Tactical Voting.

This was a gathering of the "nationalist left", but I noted that Pat Kane did describe the web as being a creation of "civil society". Very good. But later there was a reference to the awful prospect of school privatisation. Needless to say I support the privatisation of schools, but perhaps we libertarians need to improve our marketing.

What I should have done is to stand up and say that it's the de-statistisation of schools that we want. I have no problem with all schools being owned by private companies, or with them being owned by parents, or with them being owned by teachers' co-operatives. Just as long as the mixture of school ownership emerges voluntarily from Pat's civil society. Getting schools out of the deadly hand of state control is what matters. For the record, I have no doubt that a free society would see all three types of ownership that I've described as well as others that I can't begin to imagine. That's the beauty of liberty.

Friday 27 November 2009

Scottish Review

I recommend all readers to subscribe to the excellent Scottish Review, which is published by Kenneth Roy. Ken has done some fantastic work recently in exposing the huge salaries enjoyed by some of the bosses at some of Scotland's quangos, especially those in the NHS.

I've been blogging now for not too far short of eight years and in that period I've made it a strict rule not to quote more than a small amount of text from other sites.

But I'm making an exception here. This is what this week's Scottish Review has to say about events following its recent revelations:

... it came to our notice that a vital section of the Scottish Government's official website – the online directory of non-departmental public bodies – had effectively been killed. It was there in full last week when the Scottish Review, using information gathered partly from the directory, partly from our own research, published a league table of the highest earners in the non-departmental public sector and the national press picked up our work, using substantial extracts. It was there in full the following day when the First Minister, Alex Salmond, faced awkward questions about our list from the leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, Tavish Scott. It was there in full as recently as Tuesday, when we last checked. But it is not there now.

What was there before? In almost all cases there was a useful description of the organisation's remit; its grant-in-aid from public funds; a complete list of its members – their names, occupations, towns of residence, dates of appointment, and remuneration from public funds; the name of the chief executive, if applicable, and his or her salary. All that has gone. When we clicked the 'cached' option in an effort to retrieve the data, we discovered that all the former pages had been systematically taken down.

What is there now? Only the email addresses of Scotland's quangos and links to their websites. We can testify to the enormous difficulty of obtaining information about remuneration from these websites; in the cases of area health boards it required patience and tenacity over a period of weeks.

What we have witnessed this week is the abrupt withdrawal by the Scottish Government of the single most valuable source of information about Scotland's public bodies and a full-frontal attack on freedom of information. Why has it happened?

I've just sent off my subscription to the Scottish Review. Please do the same.

There are lots of Scots like myself who are coming to the conclusion that the British state is kaput. Here's a site I've recently discovered that makes that line of argument.

And Bill Jamieson's piece in today's Scotsman is superb, but unfortunately behind the subscription wall. From my dead tree version I note that Bill says:

We are as good as bust, gutted with debt, spent out and played out, with the UK or what passes for it, in the terminal ward ... Little wonder that Jim Sillars in an electrifying pamphlet this month urges Scots to get shot of all of this.
The Jim Sillars piece is here and makes fascinating reading.

The general election approaches and previously Tory voters like myself must make our choice. If I lived in Leith I'd be voting for Iain McGill, whom I know. But I don't live in Leith and I'm seriously thinking of voting SNP, despite the awful appearance by the smug and schoolmarmish nanny statist Nicola Sturgeon on Question Time last night.

The Scottish Review's reporting reminds us that the SNP really does have to understand that we the people own the government and not the other way round.

Monday 23 November 2009

In the meantime, before the IMF moves in...

A new report into eight local authorities is out:
Councils in the west of Scotland should work more closely together to help protect public services from cuts, a new report will say.
I always hate it when I read that, "a new report will say." Is it out or not?

But back to the main point. I note that:

BBC Scotland understands one recommendation is to have a single shared roads maintenance service.
There's a lot of other worthy stuff about efficiency and so on.

But the truth is that no government operation has any real way of knowing whether it's efficient or not. Sure, we can all point out some piece of nonsense or another and suggest all kinds of mergers (to save money) or de-mergers (to give more local control) but we can only obtain the best mixture of organisational sizes once all of these government functions have been privatised.

Those that aren't abolished, of course.

Saturday 21 November 2009

We are Wardog

I am taking this opportunity to link to Bill Cameron's post on the Wardog affair. Non-Scottish readers will no doubt be asking: "What Wardog affair?"

Here's Bill:

... his final message indicates that he has been going through a rough time and has had various pressures exerted upon him which he says have left him with no alternative but to cease blogging. All his earlier articles have now been removed, as well as all his links, etc.
Wardog was a pro-SNP blogger who has fallen foul of Scotland's pro-Labour media establishment. Although Wardog's blog has now been deleted, I was able to retrieve this from my newsreader:
This week's flurry of excitement over a few posts has led to my decision to end this blog.

I've been contemplating it for a wee while now, as in common with others, I find maintaining a regular posting cycle conflicts with my life & work and today's shenanigans has effectively put the nail in this particular coffin.

It's been fun, I've enjoyed the debate, argument, humour and characters that inhabit the Scottish political blogosphere but when I'm getting called at home from the Scottish Political Editors of the News of the World, Scotsman and Herald and they are also calling my place of employment and lodging serious allegations against me (which I consider to be spurious & completely unfounded)...

....well I'm afraid I obviously have to call it a day.

Thankyou to everyone that contributed.

Life's too short for this kind of nonsense and I have a lot to be getting on with.

A' the best


Note what I've underlined.

We are getting closer and closer to the huge cuts that are going to be imposed by whoever's unlucky enough to win the next General Election. Stupidly, both Labour and the Conservatives want to win. The pro-Labour media predominates in Scotland to an unhealthy degree and I foresee a very nasty campaign with no holds barred.

Friday 20 November 2009

The Chief

I favour the direct election of police chiefs. The police themselves aren't so keen:
Sir Hugh suggested that some chief officers would resign rather than accept the Conservative plans.

''I would not be surprised to see chief officers not want to be part of a system where they can be told how to deliver policing,'' he said.

I'm dining with our local Chief Constable next month, so I know what I'll be discussing with him...

Thursday 19 November 2009

New links in the blogroll

Scot Goes Pop

Munguin's Republic

David Torrance

Scotland Unspun


Paging the IMF

At first sight, here's some good news:
Scottish Parliament bosses have put forward plans for a cut in their overall budget for the coming year

But let's have a look at this:

The expenses bill for MSPs increased last year by more than 8% to £10.9m, the Scottish Parliament has said. Holyrood bosses put the £876,587 rise in 2008-09 partly down to an increase in members' staff salaries.
I'd be astounded if Holyrood (or Westminster, for that matter) actually cuts expenditure voluntarily. I think they're going to keep the spending going right down to the last penny.

Dryburgh Abbey last Sunday

Originally uploaded by David Farrer

Originally uploaded by David Farrer

The others are here.

HQ blues

Does it matter where a company's head office is located?

That's a question that's often asked here in Scotland. And the answer is, of course, yes. The head office creates work for all kinds of suppliers: from taxi drivers to auditors; from travel agents to lawyers.

So news that some top functions at RBS may be moving to London is certainly bad news for Edinburgh and Scotland:

FORMER Royal Bank of Scotland chairman Sir George Mathewson has voiced doubts about whether the bank will be run from Scotland in future.
Why London? Because London is calling the shots at RBS these days.

When I actually lived in London, this was never mentioned as an issue down there. So many companies are based in London that the odd merger or takeover never threatened London's financial position.

But perhaps things are changing. Here's the key quote regarding BA and Iberia:

The combined company would be incorporated in Spain for tax purposes with the majority of board and shareholder meetings taking place in Madrid. The operating and financial headquarters of the new group would be in London, they said.
This sounds all too familiar to me. Just how long will it be before all managerial control is moved to Madrid?

Now, as a good libertarian, I have no problem with the new airline being based at Barajas instead of Heathrow. There shouldn't "be a law against it". But as we Scots know all to well, a country starts to run into all kinds of problems if takeovers are almost entirely one-way.

The answer to these situations is obvious: create a pro-business environment in one's own country - whether that's seen as Scotland or the UK. There's not much sign of that happening these days is there?

Tuesday 10 November 2009

6.6 years!

As soon as I read this story I could guess what was coming.

Here's the first quote:

The first stage in Glasgow City Council’s trawl for redundancy volunteers will see letters sent to all 3500 employees aged 50-plus by the end of the month
And the bit that I expected is this:
As part of the deal, employees aged 50 or over with access to a pension will receive up to 6.6 added years’ pension and up to 30 weeks’ redundancy pay, while those with no access to a pension are able to apply for up to 66 weeks’ redundancy pay.
I'd love someone to have given me 6.6 added years' pension but I'm employed in the private sector - by my own company, in fact. Funnily enough my company doesn't have any pension provision for its staff (me) and if it did it would have to generate more income to pay for it. In other words, I'd have to work more hours and pay a lot more tax thus funding government employees who can retire early. The pensions that I do have on top of the state one have all been saved by myself when working in various private sector jobs over many years.

It is quite outrageous that local (and national) government workers can get these hugely inflated pension benefits when retiring early. Here in Edinburgh the Lothian Pension Fund employer contribution rate is over 20% of gross salary. That too is an outrageously high figure and helps explain the parlous state of the national finances. Needless to say, the removal of almost, if not all, of these state employees is a matter of the highest urgency.

Monday 9 November 2009

My bit of the Wall

Originally uploaded by David Farrer

Liberated during a day trip from London in November 1989.