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)