Tuesday 28 December 2010

Jim the Sixth and First

One day Jim Jefferies was sitting in his office at Tynecastle when he received a strange e-mail. The Chelsea manager had just departed and Jim was being offered the job. But here’s the strange bit: Jim would be allowed to continue as Hearts manager as well.

Naturally, Jim would be expected to live in London – after all, Chelsea was a far bigger club than Hearts. Some of his junior assistants would be left running the Edinburgh team. Jim would be Hearts manager in name only. But hey, there’d been six Hearts managers called Jim and none at Chelsea.

Not all Chelsea fans were happy with the new Scots manager with all of his Scottish sidekicks and their funny accents. Indeed, a couple of years after Jim’s appointment a group of renegade fans tried to blow up Stamford Bridge, but fortunately they were apprehended in time by the groundsman. To this day, Chelsea fans celebrate this narrow escape by burning effigies of the renegade leader.

Several decades later there was a most unfortunate incident involving Jim’s successor. A mob of Arsenal fans literally tore the Chelsea man apart during a riot in Whitehall. Chelsea were expelled from the Premier League and Arsenal ruled the roost for a decade. But the people of London missed the old days and Chelsea were allowed to return. A workable compromise has emerged between the two clubs and today there is a bizarre ceremony every November in which the Chelsea manager is driven in his Bentley to the Emirates Stadium where he performs the ceremony of the “State Opening of the Season”.

Back in Edinburgh, not everyone was happy. Hearts fans had never fully accepted having an “absentee manager”. One day the club decided to take part in the Central American Cup that was to be held in Panama City. This turned out to be a disaster. Many Hearts players and fans succumbed to tropical diseases and some were beaten up by Spanish supporters. Hearts were financially ruined.

What would the Edinburgh club do? One day the Italian born wife of the French coach was seen in Gorgie Road. Were Hearts planning to join the French league? That would never be allowed by the English, would it?

The Chelsea board came up with a cunning plan. An offer that Hearts couldn’t refuse… The deal was that there’d be a merger: the creation of Hearts of Chelsea! Under this plan football would no longer be played in Edinburgh. The new, combined team would surely be a world-beater. Based in London, of course.

Despite the “merger”, fans at Stamford Bridge still called the team “Chelsea”. The full name was only to be seen on the notepaper. Many Hearts fans thought that they’d been conned. Back in Edinburgh, Tynecastle became some sort of law office, although tourists still came to stare at it and hear about its former role as a stadium.

Many years later some troublesome folk in Edinburgh began to demand the reintroduction of football in the city. Traditionalists wondered what that might lead to. Eventually, a son of Edinburgh took control of the Premier League down in London. Egged on by his Finance Director – you know, the one who was bad with numbers – the Premiership boss reluctantly agreed to allow the reintroduction of football in the Scottish “capital”. He assured people that this wouldn’t be a threat to real football. No, it would be more like a parish game.

Eventually, New Tynecastle was built by a controversial Catalan architect. On the site of a brewery. The roof of the main stand leaked initially but at least the traditional pies were available inside the unusually designed new stadium.

The first few managers of New Hearts were somewhat grey figures but the team was loyally supported by the locals. After eight years another, more colourful manager was appointed. Some cruel folk suggested that he might well have consumed some of those stadium pies himself. His assistant was said to come from the Ibrox area.

Under the club’s Articles of Association a managerial interview must be held every four years. The next interview will be in May and many fans are worried that the current incumbent may be replaced by another grey manager.

Or should I say “Gray”?

To be continued…

Monday 27 December 2010

My first piece on Newsnet Scotland

Many years ago I read a letter in the Scotsman that went something like this:
“I’d love there to be a United Kingdom. The only trouble is that the English would never stand for it.”
That is also my position.

My own background is not untypical in today’s UK. I was born in Annan, my mother’s hometown. My father came from Millom but grew up near Penrith. I lived in Scotland until I was six, then spent three years in Leeds, back to Scotland again for another nine years and moved to London when I was 18. After not that short of 40 years down South I came up to live in Edinburgh.

My Scottish born sister has lived in England and is now in Wales. My English born sister lives in England but has also lived in Scotland and Wales. Unlike anyone else I’ve met, I’ve been to every county in the UK. I think that generally speaking Britain has been a good thing. English liberalism and the Scottish Enlightenment helped create the United States – another “good thing”, though one that would be a much better thing had it kept to its Constitution.

Politically I am a libertarian. That’s to say I believe that it’s wrong to initiate force or fraud – even if a majority votes in favour of such wrongs. Consequently, the only legitimate function of government is to protect us from those who do initiate force or fraud. That rules out government funding of schools, hospitals or welfare. Ah, a “hard right” conservative, I hear some of you saying. Not so. I favour complete freedom of speech and the abolition of all drug laws. I’m a libertarian, not a Tory. So why does this somewhat anglicised libertarian support Scottish independence?

It’s not because I think that an independent Scotland would automatically be better off. No, that would depend on the policies adopted and we’d need to get rid of a hell of a lot of socialist thinking if we were to prosper. That’s true of every country, of course. But for me, the case for independence is all about identity.

Quite frankly, I’ve had enough of the rest of the world using the word “England” to mean Britain, or the UK to be precise. Surely that’s not important, some will say. But these things do matter. I’m sure that our English friends would be rather miffed were the rest of the world to use the word “Scotland” to mean Britain. A nation and a people without identity will lack self-confidence.

The “E” word is ubiquitous. On American web broadcasts, at Italian airports, in French newspapers, from German work colleagues – they all think that we are English. And I’m fed up with it!

Until ten years ago or so all of this was something I did put up with, albeit through clenched teeth. But devolution has changed everything. We all know that things like the Barnet Formula and separate Scottish legal and educational systems long predate the re-establishment of the Scottish parliament. But, generally speaking, our southern friends hardly ever thought about Scotland and had very little knowledge of the differences between the two countries. Once Holyrood was set up, suddenly Scotland was on the English radar. We’ve had ten years of moaning about the Scottish Raj, the West Lothian Question and, above all, the “subsidy”. Of course, in a UK parliament it shouldn’t matter where the leading politicians come from. And the first opinion poll that I saw on the WLQ showed more Scots than English people in favour of removing the right of Scottish MPs from voting on England-only laws!

But what about the “subsidy”?

I don’t need to tell readers of Newsnet that the financial balance between Scotland and England is not what you’d read in the Daily Mail. I believe that the GERS figures show us to be in surplus. Few English folk have heard of this, and for that I blame the media down south. Ah, say some, Scotland should bear the cost of bailing out HBOS and RBS - then you’d have a hell of a deficit. No, Scotland shouldn’t be so-charged. And neither should England! Remember, I’m a libertarian and so I don’t think that governments should bail out any private companies. Caveat lender.

So, I’m fed up hearing that Scotland is a subsidy junkie - although it’s true that all governments are. I’m fed up hearing that waters off our shores really belong to someone else’s government – although I do believe that the oil should belong to those who discovered it. And what about the claim that there’d have been no soldiers here to help move the snow were Scotland to have been independent last week! You see, the English don’t really see us as being in a United Kingdom, but in a greater England.

The truth is that Scotland is a pretty good patch of this earth. It’s reasonably well endowed with resources and has a history of innovation and entrepreneurship. But something’s not quite right, is it? Yes, we need policies of social and economic liberty. But I don’t think that we’ll vote for those without there being a much stronger feeling of national and individual self confidence. I can’t see how that’s going to happen without independence.

Monday 20 December 2010

"Completely seized up"

Those are the words of Tim Jeans of Monarch Airlines:
Tim Jeans, the managing director of Monarch Airlines, called for a reassessment of Britain’s transport capabilities. “We have not coped well. The infrastructure — not just at the airports but the road infrastructure — completely seized up.”
Way back in 2002 I gave one explanation for the UK's inability to sort out transport:
The dominance of London is a major cause of so many of the UK's problems. John McTernan is quite right to point out how condescending are the "metropolitan" media elite when they deign to report on or, horrors, actually have to visit the "provinces." But McTernan is wrong to suggest more public investment in London. It has too much already. In the UK, the central government collects and allocates 87% of all "public" spending. In the US, it's a mere 18%. Our EU neighbours typically collect around 50% at the centre. London's dominance is not the result of market forces. Britain's unique degree of government centralisation at one end of a long, narrow country harms all of us. The proper libertarian solution is to cut out at least 90% of government activities. If we won't do that, let's move the capital to Glasgow.
So yes, we should cut back the overcrowding in the Southeast by eliminating vast amounts of government activity. Of course, the powers that be are never going to do any such thing. Neither would they countenance moving the capital to, say, Manchester, never mind Glasgow. The chaos will continue.

Sunday 12 December 2010

Hammond Must Go!

Quite a few of our friends down south seem to think that the waters off the coast of Scotland would somehow remain under London control in the event of Scottish independence. These waters are deemed to be part of England.

Very well then. I have unilaterally decided that the M8 motorway is also part of England. Consequently, Stewart Stevenson should be reprieved.

Given that the M8 is in England, Hammond must go!

Saturday 11 December 2010

Stewart Stevenson

I was sorry to read about the resignation of Stewart Stevenson.
Mr Stevenson, who was pilloried in the Scottish media following the havoc that early snowfalls brought to Scotland's transport network, tendered his resignation to First Minister Alex Salmond.

He wrote: "Although we put in place significant efforts to tackle the event, I feel that I could have done much more to ensure that members of the public who were caught up in a difficult and frightening set of circumstances were better informed of the situation.

"I deeply regret that and for that reason I feel I should step down."

Mr Stevenson has fallen on his sword. Not too many do that.

But why am I writing this?

In July 2005 I was victim of a fake e-mail that was sent to all MSPs and I felt it necessary to e-mail each and every one of them explaining what had happened. Mr Stevenson was one of those who kindly responded. I sent him an e-mail this afternoon wishing him all the best. He replied thanking me eleven minutes later. He'll be back.

Wednesday 8 December 2010

The Scottish taxpayer and the English whine

A few weeks ago I tried to answer a claim made by William Gruff over on Nourishing Obscurity.

Mr Gruff had written:

The last time I looked at the figures there were just one hundred and sixty thousand or so net tax payers in Scotland, out of a population of five million
My reply went like this:
"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."

Thanks to the Universality of Cheese I have been directed to this fascinating site from HMR&C.

It shows total taxpayers by regions and nations within the UK.

Scotland has 226,000 taxpayers in the last full fiscal year, not 160,000. Did you spot the deliberate mistake? That's 226,000 higher rate taxpayers in Scotland. The total number of all Scottish taxpayers is 2,590,000, which fits in with my earlier analysis.

I quoted higher rate taxpayer numbers to try and deal with the question of just who is a net taxpayer. Let's look at England. Total higher rate taxpayers down south are 2,660,000 out of 25,200,000 total taxpayers. So the Scottish and English numbers are pretty similar on a per capita basis. In other words, if only 160,000 Scots are net taxpayers it looks like the number for England would be about the same on a per-capita basis. Incidentally, note that the number of higher rate taxpayers in Scotland has risen by 35% since 1999/2000, while the equivalent rise in England was just 19%. And in the current tax year it is expected that numbers of higher rate taxpayers in Scotland will rise, but fall in England.

My case has never been that Scotland is some sort of economic superpower but that it is a boringly average part of the UK and indeed a boringly average part of Europe. It can survive perfectly well as an independent country.

The relentless anti-Scottish bile in the English media and blogosphere will probably lead to a split. As someone having both a Scottish and an English background I find that a bit sad. But enough is enough. I believe that independence is now inevitable. Bring it on. I'm staying.

Are gold and silver going up?

There is a superb article in Money Week today.

Here's the killer quote:

Did you know that if you had sold your average British house in late 2004 and bought silver – just regular bars of silver – you could now sell that silver and buy 5.5 average British houses?
The point about this article isn't merely to wonder whether house prices are going up or down but to break the habit of seeing prices solely in terms of fiat money.

Whenever someone tells me that "gold is going up", I reply: "No, money is going down."

Strange smoke at the Castle (or just west of it)

Wednesday 24 November 2010

Students - off work today

It's always good fun to confront the bourgeois left. Explaining to the chap selling socialist literature on Princes Street that planned government spending was still going up caused a bit of a frisson. When I made the same point to one of the "anti-cuts" demonstrators a few weeks ago, I was accused of "being a journalist from the Daily Telegraph"! Where's my paycheque?

At the recent Political Innovation event, one session found a young chap - I think he was a LibDem - asking about the voting age. Should it, perhaps, be 16? Some agreed, and other ages were suggested. When I proposed that voting rights should only be given to net taxpayers no matter what their age, the room went a bit quiet. But no one actually disagreed. It's always good to sow the seeds of doubt in the heads of young statists. You never know where the next Rothbard will come from.

On to today. I had to visit the local post office on Libertarian Alliance business and then went along to the Haymarket Bar. The landlord was a bit concerned about the student demonstration that was shortly to arrive outside. He had received no prior notification from the authorities. I was standing beside some members of the traditional working class who were speculating about going into the plywood business... But our host wasn't worried about having his windows done in - this is Edinburgh after all. No, as he observed to me: "Students like a drink and I've only got three staff on this afternoon."

Here is a view of the Haymarket junction taken from inside the bar. The poppies are on a temporary site as the war memorial has been removed for the tram works. These "works" are taking longer than the Great War itself. The police are outside the Liberal Democrats' Scottish headquarters.

Here is the view after the arrival of the demonstrators. Fortunately perhaps, no one seemed to have noticed the Starbucks a few feet away. Actually, I suspect that quite a few of the "mob" were Starbucks customers...

At this point I had a lengthy debate with an "anarchist". I asked him why an anarchist wanted more government spending. Didn't he want to smash the state? Not yet apparently. Not while he was still at university. I made plenty of libertarian points to this chap and it was clear that his young followers were somewhat discomfited by seeing the boss anarchist being confronted by an older gent in a cloth cap. Especially by one who kept pointing out that he was a taxpayer.

This chap was having his photo taken by his friends. Too late, he saw that he was also being photographed by a member of the taxpaying bourgeoisie. He quickly removed his balaclava and said to me: "Only a bit of a joke." He looked the sort to be a Writer to Queen Kate's Signet in twenty years time. He could call his firm Evil Lawyers LLP. That has a certain ring to it, does it not?

Here are the forces of law and order outside the Clegg building, which had been closed for the day.

I did have some sympathy for this protestor. Why should banks be bailed out if not students? Readers of this blog know the answer.

Friday 19 November 2010

Britain and Ireland

Joan McAlpine has a piece up today about the British reaction to the Irish crisis.

Here is my comment on Joan's site:

This is a scary interview that deals with the UK situation:

link here

Our friends down south would see an immediate problem with the GERS Scottish surplus, which allows for "a share of the UK government's banking bailout funding". Read any English site and they'll say than ALL of the RBS/HBoS bailout funding should be attributable to Scotland because their registered offices are here.

There are several points we can make in response. Would an independent England have permitted a foreign bank (RBS) to take over NatWest and so grow so big? Even if RBS had grown so large in an independent Scotland, would the City not have given more support to Barclays (and not to the foreign RBS) in the ABN/Amro take-over battle thus saving RBS? And the big one: What banking regulations would Scotland have had if independent back in 2008?

It's no good for Nats to just say that we'd have done things differently. Given the dominant Keynesian belief system I'd guess that we may well have gone down the Irish road. What a future Scottish chancellor needs to say is that there will be NO bailouts of banks - or of any other private business for that matter. Government guarantees are what have led to this crisis. Until the mal-investments that were caused by the state-supported credit boom are liquidated, there will be no recovery.

[UPDATE: here is an excellent article about just what's been done by the Irish political class. A warning to us all]

Wednesday 17 November 2010

I am not a "right libertarian"

It was good to place some faces to names at Saturday's Political Innovation event that was organised by Slugger O'Toole

One of those I met was Shuggy and he appeared on the panel during the plenary session after lunch. Shuggy told us that the blogosphere had enabled him to become more acquainted with less well-known political ideas including "right libertarianism". Shuggy and I once co-operated over a matter of mutual interest back in our early blogging days. It seems likely that he sees me as one of those "right libertarians".

Except that I'm not.

Consider this well-known diagram:

It seems straightforward at first. The vertical "social scale" line in the centre runs from "authoritarian" at the top to "libertarian" at the bottom. On this axis we can plot our attitudes towards civil liberties. The horizontal scale runs from "left" to "right" and from the terminology that seems to mean something like from collectivism to individualism or perhaps from socialism to capitalism. Folk like me who support both capitalism and civil liberties are therefore described as "right libertarians".

Now consider this older diagram: Here, we have a vertical "personal freedom" axis and a horizontal "economic freedom" one. The bad guys - communists and fascists - are in the bottom left corner and they appear in the top left corner on the first diagram. Traditional right-wingers (Tories perhaps?) who are somewhat in favour of capitalism but not too sound on civil liberties appear at the bottom right. Traditional left-wingers (Labour people perhaps?) who are somewhat in favour of civil liberties but not too sound on capitalism appear at the top left. On the first diagram the Tories would be on the top right and Labour on the bottom left although the relentless attack on civil liberties by Blair and Brown arguably pushes them into the top left box...

In this second diagram libertarians are placed at the top right corresponding to the bottom right box in the first diagram.

But this only seems straightforward.

According to the first diagram, I am a "right libertarian". According to the second diagram I am simply a "libertarian". And the second diagram is correct.

The first diagram confusingly only uses the authoritarianism/libertarianism terminology along the social scale axis and uses quite different terminology (left/right) when dealing with the economic scale.

This is a fundamental error and one that gives rise to endless confusion.

The point is that liberty is indivisible. The case for economic liberty is exactly the same as the case for personal liberty. The economic spectrum goes from authoritarianism to libertarianism just as does the civil liberties spectrum. The government that takes away your economic freedom is as much your enemy as one that takes away your personal freedom.

So why is the view presented in the first diagram so prevalent?

The answer is that knowledge of economics is in such an abysmal state. Almost all British politicians, academics and journalists are in thrall to some form of Marxist or Keynesian nonsense that totally misunderstands the practical and moral case for economic liberty. In short, people need to spend a year or two reading their Mises, their Hayek and their Rothbard before they start writing about anything that's going on in the world. (*)

Long live libertarianism!

[(*) Shuggy excepted of course!]

Sunday 14 November 2010

China Syndrome

I once met Sir John Cowperthwaite at an event in St Andrews. He was probably the greatest Scot of the last century.

What did Sir John do? He created Hong Kong and that led the the rise of capitalism in China.

Can we here in Scotland prosper, whether independent or not?

Yes, of course we can. If, that is, we bring back the likes of Sir John.

Even British television is beginning to get the message.

Wednesday 10 November 2010

Quantitative Easing - a modern con

I read this article by Peter Jones in yesterday's Scotsman. Although it's behind the paywall, I have the paper version.

Here's a key quote:

On certain mornings, the government's Debt Management Office will sell hundreds of millions of government bonds. The buyers include banks. That same day, the Bank of England will buy bonds from, yes, you've guessed it, the banks, giving them cash with which the Bank and the government hopes they will use to lend and stimulate the economy.
Mr Jones then says:
And since bank lending is not rising, the idea that banks are sitting on heaps of cash is plausible.
When asked, the Royal Bank told Mr Jones that they didn't have any of this cash and that it was "out there in the economy".

When I read this article something didn't seem to add up. Surely one reason for the banks not having any of the cash from selling the bonds in the afternoon could be because they had laid out the same cash to buy the bonds in the morning. But of course it's certainly possible for the Bank of England to buy in bonds already in circulation and held by investors other than banks.

I began to think through the series of double entries required in this game. Again, something didn't make sense until one realises that, unlike all of the other participants, the Bank of England purchases second-hand bonds by writing a cheque drawn on itself, not on a commercial bank.

Quantitive Easing does involve an increase in the money supply. The original purchaser of the bond transfers buying power from his own earnings to the Debt Management Office and on to the government to be spent on warfare, welfare or whatever. The final buyer of these bonds is the Bank of England, like the DMO another part of UK PLC. Instead of transferring real earned wealth back into the real economy, the government simply creates more "cash" out of thin air. The purchasing power of all existing savings is thereby reduced. The holders of those savings are the ones who are really paying for the extra government expenditure. It's all a con.

Jones concludes his article by saying:

Something must be done. But what, please, what?
We know the answer.

Saturday 6 November 2010

Postcode lotteries

I've been reading Postcode Lotteries by G. R. Steele, an article in the current issue of Economic Affairs.

The first two sentences:

An internet search delivers over a quarter-million hits for "postcode lottery". Almost all are British.

Why British I ask myself.

Steele points out that postcode lotteries are generally to be found in the public sector, which is ineffective in distributing goods and services. Competition tends to cause the private sector to distribute more evenly although that process is constantly challenged by technological and entrepreneurial advances - to our advantage.

I believe that the reason why the concept of the postcode lottery is essentially British is a direct result of the extraordinary degree of centralisation of both the British state and the British media. When the likes of the Daily Mail reveal that Mrs Smith in Sunderland doesn't have access to the same drug as Mr Brown in Bolton, the readership and the political class respond. It's a "National" Health Service so we must all get the same deal, whether it's good or bad.

This is quite in addition to the fact that we have a separate NHS here in Scotland. The implications of differing "national" NHS systems seems to cause consternation down south. When they realise that there are different systems of course - which is not very often.

In federal countries like Germany or the US one generally reads a paper published in the local big city, not in Berlin or Washington. Similarly, government services are administered locally to a degree that would be unthinkable in Britain. It follows then that a German or an American would expect public services to vary across the country, and not be surprised by that. Furthermore, the individual German and American states are all of equal status whatever their size. How very different from the UK.

Here we have a "national" broadcaster, funded by coercion, that's quite unable to grasp the nature of the British state as we saw in the Dimblegate affair. Similarly the "national" newspapers are really English ones with just the occasional confused foray into Scotland.

This "national" media is staffed with assorted statists who are as unaware of economics as they are of the make-up of the British state. Just as "all must have prizes", so "all must have the same healthcare" (sic, or is that sick?), and "all must enjoy the same national wage scales" no matter how much they pauperise the "provinces". (How I hate that word.)

To end Britain's championship of the postcode lottery concept we need to do one of two things. Preferably we should reduce the role of government to such an extent that state-created postcode lotteries disappear naturally. Failing that, we need to decentralise government along the German or American model. Neither's going to happen of course. Scottish independence will probably be one of the outcomes. Hopefully we'll not be stupid enough to constantly compare our (hopefully small) government expenditures with those of England. Or "Britain" as Mr Dimbleby will no doubt call it.

Thursday 4 November 2010

Wednesday 3 November 2010

Reply to William Gruff

As promised, here are my replies (in italics) to William Gruff's questions over on Nourishing Obscurity.

The categories quoted are interesting: Do those exports from Scotland include goods and services sold in or to England?

As stated, £20.7 billion is exported outside the UK and £63 billion exported to everywhere outside Scotland, including England.

‘Refined petroleum products, for instance, what does that mean? Does it include things produced at premises in the ‘U’K region of Scotland by multinational companies using petroleum that may have come from the ‘U’K sector of the North Sea, and may have come from anywhere on the planet?

I 'd guess that most of it comes from locally drilled oil. Why does this matter?

Presumably those Scots, and others who live in Scotland, were paid for the work they did. In what way are they Scotch earnings?

James asked about exports, not earnings. The figures refer to exports.

Does the reference to ‘accommodation’ include hotels?

Almost certainly.

The last figures I looked at showed that ninety per cent of tourists to Scotland went there from England. That’s not to say that all tourists from England were English but a good proportion of them must have been and it’s not unreasonable to observe that money paid from the ‘U’K region of Scotland to the British government that came originally from English pockets is in no way a ‘subsidy’ to the ‘U’K.

Who said it was? It is normal to count tourism income as an export. My weekend visit to London would count as an English export. So what?

Did the sums that identified the alleged Scotch subsidy to the rest of the ‘U’K include the eye watering sums of money a Scotch dominated Labour government stole from the English tax payer to bail out the incompetent Scotch banking system, the same Scotch banking system that we are told was once such an example to the world of how banks should be run?

The Scottish banking system that was once upheld as an example to the world was one without guarantees of government bailouts. Such guarantees have wreaked havoc in numerous countries. I oppose all bailouts as did Edinburgh-raised Professor John Kay (now of Oxford) at a recent lecture to the Edinburgh financial community. Incidentally, after the HBOS merger the first communication that I received was to tell me that my Bank of Scotland ISA was now with the Halifax and that further communications should go to Leeds, not Edinburgh. It's true that the brass plate remains here. By the way, these bailouts were paid for by all UK taxpayers, not just those in England. Far more RBS shareholders live in England than in Scotland.

Does Professor Hughes Hallet really believe that the money that should have been paid to ‘Scotland’ (Does he mean the Scotch ‘government’?) was diverted ‘south’ (by those perfidious English presumably), suggesting that some unfair and discriminatory levy has been made on Scotch goods and services, , or simple chicanery perpetrated, by the ‘English’ government, which is how most of them regard the Scotch dominated and Scotch favouring British government. The bills were presumably paid and the relevant taxes and other levies paid to the British government. What should have gone to Scotland that didn’t?

Why is it so odd to describe it as the "Scottish Government"? That's what it is. Hughes Hallett is discussing whether taxation raised in Scotland is more or less than spent here. I presume that you know that we Scots pay taxes on the same basis as elsewhere in the UK. That money goes to the Treasury. Some is sent back as a lump sum to the Scottish Government to be allocated locally and some is spent on non-devolved matters like defence and foreign policy. The grey area is our share of the non-devolved expenditure. Hughes Hallett says that £2.8 billion of Scottish taxation ends up with the Ministry of Defence but only £2 billion is spent here on jobs and procurement. Less after the defence cuts I'd imagine. Only one third of the BBC licence fee raised in Scotland is spent here. And don't even think about the Olympics...

The last time I looked at the figures there were just one hundred and sixty thousand or so net tax payers in Scotland, out of a population of five million, with a ‘U’K population of sixty million. Are we in England, all fifty one million of us, seriously expected to believe that the money contributed by those one hundred and sixty thousand exceeds our own contribution?

As I wrote on Nourishing Obscurity:

"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."

Where does this 160,000 figure come from?

The Jocks have always expected the English to pay the price of ‘union’, and never to question why, and have never expected to make any contribution themselves, and they seem never to have regarded themselves as British except when access to English money and English opportunities makes it convenient for them to do so.

Funnily enough I sent a cheque to the Inland Revenue only yesterday...

I’d love to see the Jocks paying for themselves but I’m becoming resigned to the possibility that the prospect is unlikely in my lifetime. That notwithstanding, whether the Scotch can stand on their ‘ane twa’ (Old English words and not Scotch) feet is irrelevant to the people of England. All that matters to us is that we are rid of the burden they are, and the pernicious control they have over our affairs.

We shall see what happens. I expect that independence would be a bigger shock to the English psyche than you might imagine.

As for figures: Where can we find figures comparing what is spent in Scotland by the British government, and on its behalf in Scotland by the laughably self-styled Scotch ‘government’, with what is raised there in taxes (whether from the earnings of exporters to England of what has previously been imported from England or the levies on fags and booze consumed by the subsidy junkies)?

As you can see here the economies are similar.

As for the diaspora: England would be much better off if the eight hundred thousand to one million Scots estimated to live amongst us, many of them benefits dependents, were to take themselves home and the half million or so English people who live there were to return. Here’s to independence for England.

I see that 4.9% of the Scottish population are on jobseeker's allowance. I suppose that you could argue that vast numbers of Scots in England are making claims. I never met any in decades of living in London. Most Scots I knew down south seemed to be running the English economy.

Tuesday 26 October 2010

Is America going kaput?

First, there's the extraordinary kerfuffle over mortgages. The short version is that the repackaging of mortgages - slicing and dicing - has been somewhat lacking in sound paperwork. That's putting it mildly. Some fear that this is going to collapse the whole American banking system.

People are angry:

This nation is a powderkeg. These banks break into the wrong house down here and come up against an owner with a shotgun, the "securing company"'s goon gets a load of 00 buckshot to the chest, and this ENTIRE ISSUE will come down to whether the local Sheriff shakes the homeowner's hand and pats him on the back or calls SWAT.

And another one:

People like us won't take matters into our own hands until we are sure, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the last vestiges of the system we depend on for our social well being have been completely overtaken.That moment is approaching, and the powder keg is full. The rule of law better get into gear, and it better get there quickly, because our patience wears thin.

Here is Mark Stein:

In a two-party system, you have to work with what’s available. In America, one party is openly committed to driving the nation off the cliff, and the other party is full of guys content to go along for the ride as long as we shift down to third gear. That’s no longer enough of a choice. If your candidate isn’t committed to fewer government agencies with fewer employees on lower rates of pay, he’s part of the problem. This is the last chance for the GOP to restore its credentials. If it blows it, all bets are off for 2012.

Then there is leftist voter fraud:

It is positively outrageous that in Clark County, Nevada, the SEIU Local 1107, which supports Harry Reid, controls the ballot boxes by contract through their representation of the voting machine technicians. It is not surprising that Senator Harry Reid’s name was automatically checked off on the ballot when individuals went to vote.
And this is happening well beyond Nevada.

The elections finish next week. I'm not too optimistic that the US will change in time. Change that is to a system of strictly limited constitutional government. Of course, there's no sign of that here either.

Monday 25 October 2010

Monetary and Scottish economics

First please take time to listen to an excellent interview with Kevin Dowd.

Professor Dowd has (along with Martin Hutchinson) just brought out Alchemists of Loss, which deals with the ongoing financial crisis from a libertarian perspective. Like myself, Professor Dowd is involved with the Libertarian Alliance.

Here's a Scottish-related quote:

As for the banking system, we would suggest that the role model is Scotland pre-1845, when the Scottish banking system was virtually free of state control, unhindered by a central bank, and equally admired and envied across the world – and copied by countries such as Canada and Australia. In all three countries, free banking systems operated highly successful for very long periods of time.

Note the non-role for a central bank and think about the consequent conservative approach to financial engineering.

Next I recommend listening to Professor Andrew Hughes Hallett explaining why Scotland's economic prospects are not quite what we are used to hearing from conventional news sources.

I too think that Scotland's financial position as an independent country would be perfectly viable provided we adopt sound policies. That's the key condition. The folk marching along Princes Street on Saturday would have better employed reading Professor Dowd's book.

(Thanks to the Cobden Centre and Newsnet Scotland for these links)

Saturday 23 October 2010

Tax-consumers on the march

I didn't know that the police were allowed to join unions.

Lots more tax-consumers are shown over here

Thursday 21 October 2010

Yes shareholder

Let's rephrase yesterday's post in the language of the private sector:
Shareholder: "Finance Director, I understand that you're forecasting a big loss."

"Yes, £702 billion next year."

Shareholder: "My God, and the following year?"

"Well then it'll only be £713 billion!"

Shareholder: "I don't believe it. And then what?"

"The next two years' losses will be £724 billion and £740 billion. Not too bad, eh?"

Shareholder: "But it's getting worse every year, isn't it?"

"Oh no, not really. When you allow for inflation our losses aren't getting higher at all but remain at the same modest level each year."

Shareholder: "That's a bit beyond me. Anyway, who is responsible for creating this inflation? Not you by any chance?

"Yes shareholder."

Wednesday 20 October 2010

Same old boss; same old debt

Here's the key quote:
Total public expenditure, which includes debt interest payments, will be £702bn next year then £713bn, £724bn and £740bn, bringing real terms public spending to the same level as 2008.
So, all this talk of "cuts" is pretty meaningless, isn't it? The debt in "real terms" will be back to what it was in 2008, but not for 4 years! But the "real terms" quote is what matters. If the Bank of England (sic) did its real job, and stopped stealing your granny's life savings, there wouldn't be any inflation to disguise the true nature of this con.

"Conservatives", "Liberals": give me a break.

Tuesday 19 October 2010

Private property again

Following yesterday's post on Private Places I had an extended discussion on Twitter with Scotbot.

Our discussion was connected with this piece in the Guardian and especially this comment:

It may be privately owned, but in Scottish law it still counts as public space under the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982.

Section133, Public Place:

"public place" means any place (whether a thoroughfare or not) to which the public have unrestricted access and includes:

1. the doorways or entrances of premises abutting on any such place; and 2. any common passage, close, court, stair, garden or yard pertinent to any tenement or group of separately owned houses

So in this way the street which is Multrees Walk is a public space.

There is also a suggestion the street has been adopted by the City of Edinburgh Council, in which case it is definitely not a private space.

The limitations of Twitter's 140 character limit has led to my posting this further message.

Given Section 133 it's certainly the case that the owners of Multrees Walk are out of order and need to retrain their security guards. Maybe this is another case of Scots law being ignored by English companies although perhaps England also has a Section 133 equivalent.

But none of this alters the point that I was trying to make.

As a keen photographer I'm happy to be able to take photos in as many places as possible. But as a libertarian I am in favour of property rights and by that I mean rights based on the libertarian non-aggression principle rather than those that happen to have been passed by any particular legislature. Needless-to-say I'm not advocating disobeying man-made legislation but arguing in favour of a natural rights approach. I'm not at all happy about the blurring of the rights of private property owners that Section 133 brings into play.

Here's a personal example. Where I live the flat owners each have a dedicated parking space. Given the market rate that non car users are able to achieve I'd guess that around 10% of the cost of my property purchase went on the parking space. But if one leaves the bollard down or has it damaged we've been told that we are unable to take meaningful action against parking infringers. Incidentally, a (sadly late) neighbour once told us that the infringers of our private but public spaces included bankers and policemen!

The point I was trying to make yesterday was that it's far better to rely on rigid rules that give private owners full control of their property than to hope that a benevolent state will look after us. Large numbers of competing private providers of spaces open to the public are more likely to produce the good life for all of us (including photographers) than a reliance on the state. The recent police war on photographers is a good example. Having competing legislatures is a second best alternative to that given by private property rights. But competing legislatures are better than monopolistic ones. That's why I favour devolution and why I am quite warm to the idea of independence.

Monday 18 October 2010

Private Places

There's been a bit of a row concerning Multrees Walk in the centre of Edinburgh:
Most people would probably agree that Multrees Walk is fairly attractive public space. There's no traffic, it has a high quality 'retail experience', there's a cafe where you can sit outside and watch life go by. Some of the shops have better than average window displays. Just don't try and take a photo of it, as overzealous security guards might start threatening you.
The planned demonstration by photographers took place today:
A flashmob of photographers descended on Multrees Walk today to protest against the treatment of Stefan Karpa, who was escorted off the exclusive shopping street by security guards last week.
I am both a libertarian and a keen photographer. So what are my views on this?

First, if Multrees Walk is indeed private property (though there seems to be some doubt) then the owners have every right to set whatever rules they like for those entering their property. Just as one does with one's own house.

Whether such rules are sensible or not is quite another matter. In my view, banning photography in property that is open for the public to enter at will is both stupid and offensive in the extreme. Especially in a city dependent on tourism. But the proper response is not to say that "there ought to be a law against it" but rather to take action in the free market against those initiating such rules.

I would suggest something like writing polite letters to the occupiers of the shops in Multrees Walk letting them know that one will boycott their businesses so long as this rule remains in place. Perhaps leaflets should be handed out to visiting camera-carrying tourists giving them a friendly warning about Multrees Walk's bizarre rules.

But there is another angle to this. The only alternative to privately owned streets is state owned streets. Whereas the owners of Multrees Walk would almost certainly capitulate to a vigorous (and well-deserved) campaign that threatened their profits, the state faces no such threat. A year or so ago we read about policemen in London interrogating visiting tourists who had been seen photographing red buses and Christmas decorations. The British photographic press has been up in arms about police persecution of photographers in publicly owned spaces for ages.

The whole point about private property is that it allows for all sorts of competing rules concerning interactions with non-owners. In a regime of totally privately owned streets I'd have little doubt that the owners of Multrees Walk would quickly realise that a speedy route to the bankruptcy court would be to annoy significant numbers of their tenants' customers. There is no such guarantee with a monopoly state owner.

There's been a merger...

Well, not yet anyway. But they may be coming:
In a speech to the SNP conference in Perth, Mr Salmond said he would put "bobbies before boundaries". He did not indicate the scale of the reduction, but The Scotsman understands ministers are looking at cutting Scotland's eight police forces to three or four.
Normally I'm all in favour of cutting public expenditure. And I mean cutting, not just slowing down the rate of increase as proposed by the UK government.

But, ignoring the very good libertarian case for anarcho-capitalism, the only justification for the state is to protect us against aggressors. That means limiting the state to providing the military (to protect us from foreign aggressors), the police (to protect us from domestic aggressors), and a court system to judge those accused and order appropriate restitution.

It's clear that the British police no longer see their role as one of protecting the citizen. Rather, they have become the paramilitary wing of the Guardian newspaper. (*)

I am not at all comfortable with the creation of larger and larger police forces that would inevitably become more remote from the people they are meant to serve. I suspect that we would be better off with a greater number of localised forces. Proper co-ordination would be essential of course. As would directly-elected Chief Constables. If this turned out to cost a bit more than the current arrangements the necessary cash would be available after the first few hours of real libertarian cuts...

(*) I coined this excellent phrase some years ago. I would now add "and the BBC".

Yet another Bastiat alert

Here we go again
THE new boss of Scotland's national tourism agency has called for the return of public funding to help attract new airlines to Capital.

In his first interview since being appointed chief executive of VisitScotland last month, Malcolm Roughead said that the route development fund (RDF) could help entice new airlines to Edinburgh Airport and bring the city links to the Middle East, Asia and Canada.

I'm sure that "funding" could induce more air services to Edinburgh. If Mr Roughead "funds" me enough I'll even start my own airline and operate to Dubai, Dundee and all points between.

But what we're talking about here is the use of taxpayers' money. Why should taxpayers be made to pay for air services, nice though they may be? What alternative public spending would be cut to keep to budget? (Don't laugh!) Above all, is it not the case that a Scotland in which the producing class kept all or most of its money would be so prosperous that airlines would come here without being bribed?

Sunday 10 October 2010

Roll out the barrel

I took this photo in Jerez de la Frontera:

The young man who showed us round the Bodega didn't know who Edward Heath was. I explained that Mr Heath was a lifelong tax consumer and was no longer with us. As a British taxpayer it only seemed right that I should be given the barrel...

Sadly this was not to be.


A "business" doesn't owe responsibility to anyone. How could it? Only people have responsibilities.

And the responsibility of the directors of a business is to its shareholders, not to the "community". The whole concept of "corporate social responsibility" is a fraud on the shareholders who own companies. I suppose that one could argue that given the irrational climate in which we live some short-term minded company directors might think it's necessary to go along with this pernicious doctrine.

It seems so:

A study of the CSR policies of 12 of Scotland’s largest listed companies, found that spending year on year on corporate good citizenship increased in defiance of the tough economic conditions. They included Standard Life (+12%), Weir Group (+8%) and Wood Group (+5%), even though the latter two companies were found to be among the least active in the area relative to their size. Cairn Energy, Alliance Trust, Aberdeen Asset Management and Stagecoach all also claimed to have maintained or increased spending. This came at a time when spending on advertising in the UK plunged, down 12% between 2008 and 2009.
And how about this:
Jane Wood, chief executive of charity Scottish Business in the Community, said the findings were reflected across the board. She said: “Around 70% of chief executives say the recession has resulted in sustainability becoming more important.”
But directors owe a long-term responsibility to shareholders and it's incumbent upon them to speak out against the CSR fraud. Sustainability should always be a priority for company directors whether there's a recession or not.

Actually, I suspect that we are seeing the first stages of a great depression but let that pass for the moment.

What gives a business sustainability is not pandering to CSR but a resolute defence of property rights. Let's hear it.

Holiday photos

Photos of our recent trip are here:



La Coruna








Thursday 7 October 2010


Mrs F&W came up with an excellent point about Splattergate last night.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if one of the first uses of the Equality Act were to be someone working for one of the 10:10 sponsors, O2 for example, to sue their employer for the terrible upset caused by being associated with the Ecofascists?

Saturday 2 October 2010

Pass the port

We've been away on holiday.

To start posting again, here's a photo of the new F&W cellar:


Sunday 5 September 2010

The Mandarin Windfall Tax

It's payout time again:
A CULL of senior managers at Scotland's biggest city council will result in 103 executives each receiving £128,000 in pay-offs and payments to their pension funds, it emerged yesterday.
The Council claims that these payoffs will save money in the long run. Perhaps, but the terms are outrageous:
About 80 per cent of each package will go towards reimbursing managers' pension funds for the costs of early retirement, with the remainder being spent on giving them the equivalent of 30 weeks' salary. The deal does not apply to the local authority's 5,000 teachers.
The real question is why such contracts were signed up in the first place.

And it's not just Glasgow Council that's got far too many overpaid staff. Have a look at this:

Today, The Slog begins a campaign to try and unearth why nearly half of everything Britain owes is down to public sector and civil service pension liabilities - and how this came to be presented as a difference of opinion between those calculating the liability....whereas in fact there seems to have been a deliberate attempt to hide the pension amounts being paid to civil servants....especially senior Mandarins
So what should be done?

Given that the employment contracts are probably watertight I propose that the Chancellor introduce an emergency Mandarin Windfall Tax. After all, that's what happened to bankers. And the bankers were less guilty: they acted rationally given that they operated in a fractional reserve monetary system put into place by the mandarins themselves. And in so far as one might argue that the bankers should have seen through fractional reserve banking, they were "educated" at universities controlled by those very same mandarins.

Bastiat Alert

Yes, here's yet another one:
The Scottish government's exports agency has said it generated more than £500m to Scotland's economy last year.

Scottish Development International (SDI) said it had also managed to secure 5,500 jobs despite the global recession

I can just about understand why SDI itself doesn't ask the obvious question: Just how many jobs would have generated had the taxpayer kept his own money and chosen his own investments?

But why didn't the BBC ask? Surely not because the BBC's also funded by the taxpayer?

Tuesday 31 August 2010

Book Festival - the final days

Other events that I went to were: Ewen Cameron and Christopher Whatley

Alexander McCall Smith

Iain Dale and others

Robert McCrum

Doug Saunders

And last but not least:

Frederick Forsyth

Frederick Forsyth
Originally uploaded by David Farrer

After all that it was time for a bevvy in a nearby hostelry:

Mathers Bar
Originally uploaded by David Farrer

Wednesday 25 August 2010

The new Los Angeles Tram System

A new (government) school in LA is going to cost a modest $578,000,000.

For that kind of money they could get a new tram system, although it probably wouldn't get as far as the port...

According to this report:

The Los Angeles Unified School District spent $29,780 per student in fiscal year 2007-08. That’s way above the $10,000 as advertised by the school district, and as used in most studies.
For that kind of money they could all be sent to Fettes!

After India

I see that Denmark has qualified for British foreign aid.

Sunday 22 August 2010

Saturday 21 August 2010

Austrian Economics

Or real economics as I would put it.

Here is a PDF version of Eamonn Butler's recent introduction.

Friday 20 August 2010


This morning I heard John Kay talking about Obliquity – how our goals are best pursued indirectly. I'd heard Kay speak in Edinburgh a couple of times before and this was a fascinating session.

Kay had once served as a director of the Halifax Building Society who voted in favour of demutualisation. This resulted in Kay's receiving an e-mail saying: "Now we know who caused the financial crisis"!

Book Festival on Thursday

On Thursday morning we went along to hear David Kynaston talking about his new book Family Britain 1951 - 1957. The previous book in this series was Austerity Britain 1945 - 1951.

This was an enjoyable session, especially for those of us who (just) remember the fifties. Unsurprisingly, Kynaston was in "on the one hand and on the other hand" mode. Just as I was taught to say in essays:

On the one hand Marx said ...... and on the other hand Rothbard said....
I did get away with that!

Back to Kynaston. On the one hand people were perhaps too repressed in the fifties but on the other hand crime was very low indeed. I think that most of the audience were more interested in how to get back to an era of low crime without necessarily agreeing that they had been particularly repressed back in the fifties.

Thursday 19 August 2010

Nice work if you can get it

There's been a big row over high "pay and perks" going to executives at the taxpayer-funded Scottish Enterprise (sic).

Rightly, some MSPs are speaking out:

Mr Park said: “These sums are absolutely astonishing. Most public-sector employees are being told that salary increases will be pegged at 1% but it appears there are different rules for those at the top.

“It is time the Scottish Government told these people to start living in the real world.”

Fair enough, but who exactly is this John Park? He is a Labour MSP!

Calling for a government to start living in the real world!

Truly, you couldn't make it up.

No surprise here

I see that the UK's favourite university is a private one!

Wednesday 18 August 2010

Badger's Lair

I went along to hear Alistair Darling's much reported and pre-reported speech last night:
The Scotsman revealed yesterday that Mr Darling was preparing to launch a thinly-veiled attack on former prime minister Gordon Brown, saying Labour lost the General Election because it ignored the deficit.
Actually, despite being given several opportunities I didn't reckon that Darling was very critical of Brown at all.

The Donald Dewar Lecture was chaired by BBC Scotland's Brian Taylor who introduced Darling as a friend. Now, Taylor's a good chap and is probably a friend of most of our leading politicians. But "BBC Scotland journalist a friend of Scottish Labour politician" - not exactly the revelation of the week...

Darling was convinced that he'd done a good job and I accept that he was probably more competent than any alternative Labour chancellor, including his predecessor. But I heard no evidence of any real understanding of the nature of the economic crisis.

We heard some of the usual Labour tricks. Cutting government expenditure was "taking money out of the economy". I hoped in vain for Taylor to pick up on that Brownism. But, to be fair, it took David Cameron weeks to catch on to that one. Darling talked about Labour's plan to halve the deficit in five years. How many others in the audience realised that such a policy would mean that total debt would still be rising? As indeed it is under the current government.

Clearly there are no Austrian School economists in the Treasury, as Darling told us that no one saw the crisis coming. Actually, I think he quietly corrected that to "almost no one." Perhaps he saw this constituent lurking in the back corner...

Darling told us that the banks had made many mistakes. Often, they didn't know what sort of assets they were buying. He's right there of course. But he was wrong in saying that the British banks had avoided the subprime mess that hit the US ones. Northern Rock was invested in subprime mortgages and the big British banks bought the bulk pre-packaged portfolios of subprime from the American banks.

The most worrying thing was the total lack of any questioning as to why the banks were able to act so recklessly. The idea that the fundamentals of the very monetary system itself are wrong has clearly never entered Mr Darling's head. But he's not alone in that. We'll keep on going through these financial crises until we learn the lesson.

Tuesday 17 August 2010

An extraordinary life

On Monday morning I went along to hear a 90-year-old Scottish pensioner by the name of Alistair Urquhart.

Mr Urquhart has had an interesting life.

As a young man he lived in Aberdeen and was keen on ballroom dancing. In September 1939 he was conscripted into the Gordon Highlanders. They sent him to Singapore where the officers assured everyone that they were safe from the Japanese. Urquhart won a medal for ballroom dancing but was told by a fellow dancer who was in the Signals Corp that the Japanese were indeed a threat to the Lion City. And so it tuned out...

Urquhart was captured and made to march through Singapore seeing the severed heads of thousands of Chinese stuck on bamboo poles.

He was sent to work on the Burma railway. He helped build the Bridge over the River Kwai and cheered when it collapsed under the weight of the first train. The poor workmanship was deliberate. Punishment was meted out by the Korean guards. The Japanese punished the Koreans. The film was crap.

Eventually Urquhart was sent to Japan on a prison ship. Many prisoners died in the over-heated hold just as others had done on the way to the Burma railway. But the prison ship was torpedoed by a US Navy vessel - they had no idea that prisoners were on board. For a while he drifted on a cork life raft alongside a Japanese officer in full regalia.

Eventually a fishing boat rescued Urquhart. He was taken to the mainland to work in the fields outside a major Japanese city. One day Urquhart saw a lone US bomber flying overhead. Suddenly there was a flash of light and a hot wind. The Japanese guards started to run away. The city was Nagasaki...

The survivors were rescued but made to sign affidavits keeping secret the existence of the atomic bomb. But Urquhart "signed with his left hand"!

Arriving in the US, the survivors got a hero's welcome. At Southampton it was a one-way ticket to Aberdeen. Some things don't change.

At the end of the session Urquhart was asked about "this ballroom dancing thing". He still dances four times a week. Why? "It keeps us old folks from causing trouble out on the streets."

And here he is:

Edinburgh International Book Festival

We went to our first event on Sunday morning. Ferdinand Mount was talking about his new book:
Full Circle: How the Classical World Came Back to Us, is a quietly passionate account of how our modern mindsets and practices are much closer to those of the ancient Greeks and Romans than we might realise.

An enjoyable session. Mrs F&W had already started the book and I expect to read it soon.

Time ran out before I could ask my planned question: "Your ex-boss, Mrs Thatcher, was both a scientist and a war leader. Would she have been more at home in ancient Greece or ancient Rome?"

Monday 2 August 2010

Forget debits and credits - blame Thatcher

Brian Monteith has this article in Think Scotland and also in today's Scotsman.

Here's an extract:

When Thatcher came to power in 1979 some 67 per cent of Scottish homes were rented, nearly all of them from the state, while 33 per cent of Scottish homes were owned. By 1997 the figures were reversed and the rented sector had a new and growing private sector from buy-to-let owners.

The change was not just about creating the property owning democracy as a buttress against socialism, it was about enriching peoples' lives by giving them an asset against which they could borrow, an asset that could act as a pension fund and provide an inheritance that could help families accumulate and retain their wealth.

The only thing I'd disagree with is that the houses were "given".

Blaming everything on "Thatcher" is a copout used by almost all Scottish politicians. It's a great pity that the SNP government seems to be quite unconcerned with financial reality. Ring fencing NHS expenditure is madness and bodes ill should Ms Sturgeon becomes the next SNP leader. But it's not just her, is it? Is there no one in the SNP who has an ounce of business or financial sense? Surely John Swinney cares about how he'll be seen by history.

Sunday 1 August 2010


St Margaret's Hope
Originally uploaded by David Farrer

Italian Chapel
Originally uploaded by David Farrer

Ring of Brodgar
Originally uploaded by David Farrer

Lots more photos are here.

Monday 19 July 2010

Gold Rush?

I see that National Savings has pulled its index-linked products:
Experts yesterday accused the Government of punishing the responsible behaviour of savers as it battles its own deficit.

Andrew Hagger, of personal finance website Moneynet.co.uk said: “It’s another door slammed in the face of savers.

“Consumers who have been increasingly relying on the one sure fire way of protecting their nest egg from inflation will be dismayed that the government has without any warning, pulled the rug from under their feet.”

I had an enjoyable run-in with a socialist worker activist in Princes Street a week ago. He asked me to sign a petition against the "Tory Cuts". I said that unfortunately there weren't any such cuts. He said that the cuts were 25% per year. I countered by saying that he should have said 25% over four years but that was outweighed by continuing additional spending elsewhere. The debt is still rising, albeit at a reduced rate than under ZNL. He refused to believe me.

And now National Savings are stopping the sale of index-linked savings. Fortunately I switched some cash into them a couple of weeks ago from a deposit account that now pays 0.5% pa. Inflation's coming folks.

Is this guy for real?

I mean Paul Dalgarno.

I know that the article on charity "chuggers" is meant to be taken with a pinch of salt, but really!

How about this:

those charity muggers who stop you in the street and ask you to sign away your life savings to causes, all of which are invariably worthy.
All of them?

It looks like Mr Dalgarno is just another useful idiot who can't be bothered to work out a consistent moral and economic philosophy. And there's plenty more like him.

Saturday 17 July 2010

Edinburgh Airport

Our airport is in the news at the moment.

Here is the important story:

A STRIKE ballot of airport staff over pay and conditions has raised the prospect of more flight disruption in the Capital.

The Unite union will ballot 6000 members next Friday for strike action at BAA's six UK airports, including Edinburgh.

Here is the non story:
EDINBURGH Airport's controversial drop-off charge is a "desperate" attempt to raise extra cash amid signs that passenger growth forecasts are set to flop, an aviation expert claimed today.
Now, I happen to agree with Richard Havers in saying that the airport's forecasts are probably too optimistic:
"They predicted far too rosy a future and now it's not happening they are desperately to claw some money back."
But what's extraordinary is the huge fuss that's broken out over the airport's plan to charge £1 for dropping off passengers outside the terminal building. This story has been all over the local media for a week or more and has generated a vast outcry, the likes of which I haven't seen for quite a while. Come on now: just how often does the typical Edinburgh resident drop off a passenger at the airport? It seems to me that what we're seeing is another outbreak of agoraphobia - fear of markets.

Monday 12 July 2010

Trading post

I see that our bin men are back today. Unlike last Monday.

Why is it that the only people who seem to observe the Edinburgh Trades Holiday are those who don't actually trade?

Enterprise? Don't make me laugh

I see that Scottish Enterprise (sic) is to get rid of 20 "bosses".

Here's the explanation:

“These changes are about ensuring we can respond faster and more effectively to the opportunities to transform Scotland’s economy. By reducing the number of directors and removing internal management layers, we can speed up decision- making, react more quickly to what our customers are telling us and deliver projects and support that are focused on the big issues facing Scottish companies.”
Here's an idea. Why not get rid of the whole of Scottish Enterprise?

Have a look at their Business Plan. This organisation is costing us £276.9 million in the current financial year. I see that total expenditure is classified as "TOTAL CASH INVESTMENT". In other words they are describing all expenditure as investment. That alone disqualifies this organisation from serious consideration. Scottish Enterprise should be abolished immediately and the savings used to cut business taxation.

Sunday 11 July 2010


Have a look at RantinRab's piece, I'm a policeman. Grrrrr!

The same photo is shown in the Sunday Times News Review section and also on today's Scotland on Sunday website.

This is taken from the SoS website:

But what's this?

Here is a photo I've taken of the front page of the dead tree version of Scotland on Sunday.

Spot the difference?

(I have taken a photograph of the SoS web page - just in case they change it...)

(UPDATE 1. Bill Cameron has pointed me to this.

UPDATE 2. The Sunday Times main section has the non-snarling version of the photo but the snarling one in the News Review section!)

Friday 9 July 2010

Nothing new under the sun

I am now reading Robin Lane Fox's book on the Classical World.

I came across this today:

Romans regarded Greeks as essentially frivolous, people who talked too much and who were too clever by half. They were duplicitous, and quite unreliable with money, especially their own public funds.

Sunday 4 July 2010


I am currently reading Norman Stone's book on the First World War. Last night I got to the Battle of the Somme.

Coincidentally, I happened to be in Glasgow earlier in the day and saw this:

Lots of other photos here.

Friday 25 June 2010

Detroit and Glasgow

On my first ever visit to North America I flew from Gatwick (via Prestwick!) to JFK on Laker Airways. This was back in the days when New York was scarier than London and I remember being ever so slightly nervous when shortly after arrival I took an evening trip on the Subway. All was fine however and three days later I travelled on a Greyhound bus via Boston to Montreal. After visiting Toronto I headed back into the US with Chicago being the next port of call. But I had to change buses in Detroit...

Back in the nineteen seventies the Detroit bus station wasn't the most welcoming of places at 7am. I guess it would be slightly more worrying nowadays:

"neighborhoods literally falling apart"—through streets that look like "a hurricane has recently swept through, destroying nearly everything on its path." Thousands of houses have been abandoned—in many areas 50-60% of the houses are in foreclosure. Some blocks have only a few homes left standing. A thousand people a month are leaving what has been called " America ’s fastest dying city."
Reading this, I immediately thought of Glasgow. Not so bad as Detroit perhaps, but getting there.

Sadly the writer of the piece on Detroit gets it completely wrong:

The productive forces in society—natural resources, technology, the creativity and knowledge of the people—are all held back and constrained, by the private and exploitative nature of capitalism. They are fettered by the need of capital to constantly produce for profit—not to meet the needs of the people.

This basic rule of capitalism—that the whole point of production is to make profit—means that people are treated as things to be used or tossed aside. It means the system considers thousands of Black people, especially the youth, as just so much surplus that can’t be profitably employed. It means the system, through its armed enforcers, must come down with even more repression against this socially combustible and potentially rebellious section of society. And it means poisonous ideological assaults that justify such attacks and blame the people for the oppressive situation the system has put them in.

Detroit is a painful and clear example of how we need a whole new way, a whole new system, a whole new society. And we need revolution to bring this into being.

Doesn't that sound just like the politicians and pundits who have impoverished Glasgow? The writer doesn't seem to realise that it was capitalism that built Detroit into America's premier industrial city. And it was capitalism that led to Glasgow being world champion in shipbuilding and locomotive manufacturing. If the politicians of Detroit and Glasgow wish their cities to be world-beaters again it behoves them to create the necessary conditions. Not subsidies and socialism but low taxes and free markets. As that great fan of Adam Smith once said: "There is No Alternative."