Monday, 30 June 2003

What about the spending?

The German government is planning to reduce taxation by £12.3 bn in a bid to boost the economy:
The German chancellor claimed the reduction would mean average taxpayers would pay 10% less tax next year. "10% less tax means 10% more consumption," he said.
I certainly welcome any reduction in taxes but why is there no mention of a corresponding cut back in state expenditure? I suspect that this is a con and that welfare spending will continue and will be paid for by printing devalued Euros.

Sunday, 29 June 2003

Scottish craftsmen shortage

Romanian building labourers have been working at the Scottish parliament project and now it looks as though foreign skilled craftsmen are to be brought in too:
Mivan, a company specialising in interiors for prestigious public buildings, says it is struggling to find enough fully-trained Scottish craftsmen to finish the job.

The warning follows renewed questions over who is to blame for the Holyrood debacle, which has seen the costs of the projects rise to almost £400m. After importing Romanian workers for the controversial Holyrood project, one of the key contractors has now warned that it may have to sign up craftsmen from Poland and Portugal.

Mivan, which is based in Antrim, Northern Ireland, has parliament contracts worth £24m, including the joinery and fitting-out of the Holyrood debating chamber, media offices, committee rooms, and public toilets.

I have no objection to the employment of overseas workers - good luck to them in fact - but I can't help wondering why a country that built 20,000 of the world's ships * in a couple of centuries is unable to find enough carpenters to fit out its new parliament building. Perhaps we should start by asking why there are almost 100,000 people on state benefits in Glasgow.

(* Isn't it amazing just how many shipyards existed on the Clyde?)

Frankly, they don't give a stuff

The Lib/Lab administration is constantly telling us how much it supports Scottish business. But not everyone agrees. Additional red tape is playing havoc with the construction industry:
"The politicians kept telling us before the election that they were interested in promoting the economy and entrepreneurialism," said Tennant. "But when it comes down to it they don’t give a stuff."
Tennant's conservatory and windows company has had to "lay off nearly half its workforce" as a result of new regulations. The truth is that the governing regime hates the private sector and will do anything to harm it. What other conclusion can we draw?

Saturday, 28 June 2003

A welcome change from politics

All too many visitors to Scotland speed north as they pass through Dumfries and Galloway or the Scottish Borders without stopping to spend time in these beautiful areas. I strongly recommend looking at Jim Wilson's photography website which contains some wonderful images many of them taken in the countryside around his Borders farm.

Thanks to Outdoor Photography for the link.

Friday, 27 June 2003

Water bonus?

I was ready to express my usual outrage at this latest example of state exploitation:
MANAGERS at Scottish Water were berated by politicians and business leaders last night after it emerged they have decided to pay hefty bonuses to all their employees at the same time as they are forcing up water charges on business customers by up to 500 per cent.
All 4,600 employees of Scottish Water are apparently getting a bonus even as they are driving small businesses to the wall.

The Conservatives are angry:

Murdo Fraser, for the Tories, described Scottish Water’s decision as a "slap in the face" to its customers.

"Scottish companies already pay much more for their water than counterparts in England, in some cases 16 times as much for similar sized premises," he said.

And, Mr Fraser added: "If Scottish Water is able to find this money, then rather than pay staff bonuses it should use it to reduce water bills for our hard-pressed small businesses.

We expect the Tories and business representatives to speak out against Scotland's extortionately high water bills. What is interesting, though, is that one can detect just a hint that the left-of-centre establishment media are beginning to realise that water nationalisation isn't working. Perhaps the sheer cheek of these bonuses at a time when the public are up in arms over the parliament building fiasco will lead to a greater degree of scepticism about all state activities. That would be a bonus for the rest of us.

Thursday, 26 June 2003

More of the same

In today's Edinburgh Evening News a Ms Margaret Curran has written this article about Scotland's juvenile crime problem:
Anti-social behaviour makes people’s lives a misery. Every day, hundreds of Scots are subjected to unacceptable behaviour that blights their lives, undermines families, degrades their environment, drags down communities and leads to more serious crime.

In cities, towns and villages across Scotland people feel powerless to stand up to the few who cause most of the trouble. If they do take a stand, they may be threatened or feel their concerns are simply being ignored. This cannot be tolerated any longer.

Indeed, it shouldn't be tolerated any longer. But who is this Ms Curran? Oh dear; the News tells us that she is "Minister for Communities" - in the very same Scottish government that has presided over the huge increase in juvenile crime. Ms Curran's Labour party bears responsibility for the crime wave, which is caused by the creation of a dependency class accompanied by an unwillingness to make criminals responsible for compensating victims as well as paying for the cost of their capture and trial. I predict that juvenile crime will continue to rise. Unless, of course, it is spun out of existence.

Falsifying history

Transport Secretary (but not for Scotland) Alistair Darling has now been made government spokesman on Scottish matters in the Westminster Parliament. As Scotland on Sunday's Gerald Warner puts it, Darling is now "Minister for Docks and Jocks."

In his first appearance in his new role, Darling made a fool of himself by referring to the Scottish Parliament as an "Assembly". The Right Honourable Member for Edinburgh Central should know better. Wales has an Assembly, but Scotland's body has legislative and tax-varying powers. Darling's error would not have mattered very much had he not been a Scot himself, but it was a foregone conclusion that the Scottish Nationalists would be making the most of Darling's gaffe. Now, the Parliamentary authorities have falsified history:

ALISTAIR Darling’s role as Secretary of State for Scotland descended into farce yesterday after it emerged parliament’s official record had been altered to mask his "assembly" gaffe.

The Scottish National Party claimed an entry in Hansard, the official report of proceedings at Westminster, might have been changed at the request of Mr Darling’s aides after he came under a barrage of criticism for referring to the Scottish Parliament as an "assembly".

The Speaker - now known as "Doc Martin" since getting his honorary degree - acknowledged the falsification:
Mr Martin conceded that an alteration had been made. He told MPs during points of order in the Commons chamber: "The official report did edit the reference by the Secretary of State for Scotland from the ‘assembly’ in Holyrood to the ‘parliament’."

However, he added it was normal practice for Hansard to correct "obvious mistakes" and he added "this is what happened on this occasion".

This is outrageous. Darling didn't make a grammatical error; he made a damaging political boob, and the Labour Speaker has helped him out. Can we believe Hansard in future?

Tuesday, 24 June 2003

They don't pay tax

It looks as though sound political thinking may be more widespread than I had suspected. This letter from D R Mayer concludes:
By the way, as all pay for the public sector comes from the taxes payable by the private sector, it is possible to argue that the public sector does not contribute to the tax take: it only consumes it!
Mr Mayer is correct. No one working for the public sector, nor any of its beneficiaries, pays any tax whatsoever.

Shocking: a businessman defends freedom!

There is an excellent letter in today's Glasgow Herald from the director of food policy of the British Retail Consortium. (No direct link available to the letter, hence quoted in full):
SHOP theft is not victimless - it is the major cause of violence to retail employees - and does not deserve the blasé comments by Alex Bell (June 23). His ignorance on theft from shops is only matched by his irrational, immature, and ignorant views on global trade and consumer choice.

The reality in the modern British food economy is that retailers seek to provide their customers with a wide range of high-quality, affordable food. For many, this includes products sourced from every corner of our world.

The real injustices in global trade are caused by the stultifying tariff regime, much loved by the protectionists, that allows coffee beans to be imported, yet place an effective block on imports of coffee granules. Such a system prevents Ethiopia's farmers from adding value and modernising their economy.

British retailers go to great lengths to ensure that the products they source - whether in Fife, Florida, or Fiji - have the same specification including safety, labour standards, and quality. The way forward is not a return to the central planning that characterised Stalin's Russia, but an expansion of the food democracy in which we live.

Artificially restricting price and choice delivers for no-one - least of all those at the margins of the global economy. So the next time someone advocates theft, think whether they are Robin Hood or Uncle Joe.

Richard Ali, director of food policy, British Retail Consortium, 21 Dartmouth Street, London.

It is very rare for a business spokesman to defend free trade on principle. Although Mr Ali is somewhat wimpish on the Robin Hood question, I congratulate him on taking the good fight directly into the enemy's camp.

Monday, 23 June 2003

This post recreated from memory after being lost by Blogger!

The welfare state

This Scotsman editorial points out that Peter Hain's comments on tax are just a wee bit misleading

All of which suggests that the £100,000-a-year figure being bandied about is bogus. In fact, for the Chancellor to balance his books, we are beginning to look at nearer £50,000-£60,000 being the point where a new 50 per cent band kicks in. You have been warned.

As well as the UK, the rest of the EU and the US face trouble too.

Have a look at this chart:

The Financial Sense Online website writes about the US:

Are we really broke? The answer is clearly, YES, but living on borrowed time and money. A recent study was done by Jagadeesh Gokhale and Kent Smetters which measures our government’s current debts and projected debts based on the proposed federal budget and revenues for 2004. By extending the numbers in constant 2003 dollars, they have come to the conclusion that the Federal government is officially insolvent to the tune of $44 trillion.

On the FSO's weekly broadcast we were told that both Medicare and Social Security would be bankrupt by 2010 or 2011 unless income tax is raised by two thirds!

The truth is that the welfare state is bankrupt and almost no one, not the Scotsman editorial writer and certainly not the Tories, is willing to say that the Emperor has no clothes.

Friday, 20 June 2003

Saraidh sian, a Ghranaidh Stailinn!

This wonderful piece of graffiti has appeared on the wall of Dover House, the Whitehall base of the now defunct Scotland Office (credit to the Scotsman diary - no link available to this item). Translated from the Gaelic we get:
"Farewell, Stalin's Granny."
Stalin's Granny was coined as a nickname for Helen Liddell who has recently been removed from the position of Secretary of State for Scotland. According to the Helen Liddell Fan Pages, nepotism is not exactly unknown in her part of the world:
For example, of the 21 councillors, as many as 5 had no relatives at all as council employees. The remaining 16 only had a total of 68 relatives between them as council employees.
So "Granny" has gone; it's a pity that Stalin's grandson, uncle, father, daughter-in-law and all too many cousins still infest the smoke-filled-rooms of Scottish politics.

Thursday, 19 June 2003

Free the Pizza

The Edinburgh police are being wholly unreasonable in objecting to a request for a takeaway Pizza outlet to stay open late after a Robbie Williams concert:
Parvis Moghaddam, who has run Pizza Primo, on Morrison Street, for the last 12 years, said he had been hoping to receive a huge boost to business - at what is a traditionally quiet time of year - from fans on their way home from the shows.

But Lothian and Borders Police believe it is "wholly inappropriate" for any business to be granted a licence extension for a one-off event, claiming it will encourage people to "loiter in the city longer than necessary".

Why on earth should the police say that people can't "loiter in the city longer than necessary"? This isn't the Soviet Union. Tourism is one of Edinburgh's biggest industries and we don't need public officials talking in Orwellian tones about "worrying precedents" or businesses "taking full advantage (sic) of the maximum opening hours". Of course takeaways stay open as long as they can - how else could they pay the taxes that pay the police wages? By all means let the police deal with troublemakers, although I've neither seen nor heard any near the Pizza Primo and I live nearby. Should the patrons overdose on the 14" Hot & Spicy I'm sure that the Boys in Blue can attend the crime scene quickly enough - the West End Police Station is about 50 yards away.

Wednesday, 18 June 2003

Jim Callaghan was a Thatcherite!

It seems that Tony Blair thinks so:
The Prime Minister declared government spending in Britain to have been too low - not just under Margaret Thatcher but for "decades".
So all those tales of Blair being ever so reluctant to allow Brown to spend, spend and spend again are, well, nonsense. Despite Iraq, Blair has made his choice: it's goodbye Anglosphere and hello high-spending, low-growth Europe.

Note also that Blair remains utterly ignorant of his native Scotland:

Mr Blair also said the 21-week waits to see a NHS consultant was "virtually eliminated". This is untrue for Scotland, where the waiting time is 26 weeks or longer for one in eight patients.

He said that "crime is down since 1997" - whereas it has risen in Scotland.

Mr Blair’s remark that "over the next two years, more than half of all secondary schools will become specialist schools" is also not happening in Scotland, where the comprehensive model of education has been retained.

Is it not strange that the European levels of expenditure north of the border seem to make things worse? People in England will learn that lesson soon enough. The millions of middle class folk who mistakenly thought that Blair was "one of us" may come to appreciate that old Scots saying: Ye ken noo.

Tuesday, 17 June 2003

Airport expansion

It's no great surprise to read that British Airways is calling for further development at Britain's airports.

BA expressed support for:

* an additional runway in the Midlands at Birmingham airport - no case for a new airport in the Midlands
* new terminals at Manchester airport -no case for additional runways at this stage
* towards the end of the 30 years, likely to need an additional runway at either Edinburgh or Glasgow airports - no new airport in central Scotland
* new short runway at Heathrow for between 30 and 60 take-offs and landings each day reserved for extra flights to more UK regional airports

I think that this makes a lot of sense, but BA have ran away from saying whether the new Scottish capacity should be at Edinburgh or Glasgow. Clearly, Edinburgh airport is more suitably located to serve most of central Scotland. We should recognise that now and start making appropriate plans as soon as possible.

Incidentally, no one ever seems to ask why so much airport expansion needs to be in the southeast of England. Writing about the Royal National Lifeboat Institute (based in Dorset), John Blundell observes:

What would happen if the RNLI was nationalised and run by the civil service? My guess is its budgets would increase tenfold and its HQ would move to central London.
Mr Blundell is correct; a nationalised RNLI almost certainly would be headquartered in London. Britain has probably the most centralised government in the developed world - even with devolution. The result is chaotic overcrowding around London. If we were to reduce the size of the state or - second best - move much of it well away from the capital, many of the environmental problems of over-development could be overcome.

Monday, 16 June 2003

A cure for stress

A few weeks ago I discussed something written by Joyce McMillan and said that her articles usually started well but that it was "only a matter of time before her instinctive establishment-leftism kicks in."

Dave Fordwych commented:

On Joyce Macmillan, I too find her infuriatingly silly most of the time yet just occasionally [but all too infrequently] I find myself in complete agreement with her.
In this article, Ms McMillan has identified a real problem - that of stressed-out politicians:
....the kind of intense pressure on frontline politicians that (Alan) Milburn acknowledged in his resignation letter: the pressure to show an air of calm certainty and political mastery 24 hours a day, seven days a week, even when advocating intensely controversial policies; and the pressure on family life and relationships that inevitably increases the chances of scandal arising.
Joyce proposes reform of the various electoral systems in the UK, reform of the internal workings of political parties and "reform of all the 19th century mechanisms of democracy and policy-making that are failing to withstand the relentless pressures of 21st century media culture." Well, maybe these "reforms" are necessary but there is a much easier way to solve the problem of stressed-out politicians that probably wouldn't occur to an establishment figure like Joyce McMillan.

What we need to do is to reduce the state to its (arguably) legitimate role of protecting people against aggressors. When leviathan has been cut down to size and most of its functions returned to civil society, any necessary unpaid and part-time politicians will be found from the ranks of talented people who have proved themselves in the real world.

A noble proposal

Reader William Brown has drawn my attention to a proposal to create the title of Baron of Gigha. The residents of Gigha have to repay the Scottish Land Fund £1m against the £3.5m given (by the taxpayer) to acquire the island:
The islanders of Gigha are willing to create a new baron, if they can find someone harbouring seigneurial aspirations and willing to pay well above £600,000.

The title Baron of Gigha goes with Achamore House, the former laird's home, and the islanders will throw in an uninhabited island as well.

Mr Brown rightfully suggests that the islanders should also sell the famous gardens to repay even more debt. I agree; it is shameful that taxpayers were made to fork out to enable the residents to acquire Gigha. We should get back as much as we can.

On second thoughts, though, I have an alternative plan. Why not write off the islanders' debt. Give the barony to Tony Blair. Let our "right honourable friend" retire to enjoy the tranquillity of the Inner Hebrides, be respected as Baron of Gigha and escape once and for all from his troublesome neighbour. The rest of us will be able to thank our lucky stars that he didn't become President of Europe.

Sunday, 15 June 2003

Cheaper to use whisky?

For many Scottish businesses the cost of water supply is becoming unacceptably high:
Mr Downie (of the Federation of Small Business) said: "It’s the biggest overhead now for all Scottish businesses. We were promised by the commissioner that increases would be between 7 per cent and 10 per cent last year, but now we are seeing 25 to 500 per cent increases.
Mr Downie draws attention to the fact that the English water companies had their debts written off at the time of privatisation whereas the state owned Scottish Water continues to be responsible for debt. Our local leftist politicians have offered this as an explanation for Scotland's high water cost. But things are not as claimed writes Peter Jones of The Economist:
One myth, which the state-owned Scottish Water is happy to see propagated, is that it is saddled with debt, whereas the English private firms were not. It is true that at privatisation, the Treasury wrote off £5.1 billion of debts. The sale proceeds brought in £3.9 billion, meaning the net cost to the taxpayer was £1.2 billion, or about £50 per customer. In Scotland, the former regional council water services were combined to produce three water authorities - East, West and North - in 1995. To smooth this transition, the Treasury wrote off £700 million of regional council debt, or about £300 per customer. So the Scottish water consumer got a better deal.
The real explanation of our high water costs - according to the industry commissioner - is that "Scottish Water is monumentally inefficient". Jones says that public opinion wouldn't support privatisation. Surely that's because most people in Scotland don't pay taxes. Ideally, voting should be restricted to taxpayers. In the meantime, Companies are "seriously likely" to pull out of Scotland because of soaring water bills and business rates, according to CBI boss Digby Jones.

Atlas is shrugging.

Saturday, 14 June 2003

A reader writes?

Here is a thoughtful letter from a Mr Andrew Duffin. Could he be one of Freedom and Whisky's esteemed readers?

Friday, 13 June 2003

"What else did you expect?

Here is an excellent article by Bill Jamieson on the Parliament building fiasco:
Today, 30 months late and with the latest overall cost forecast at more than nine times the original estimate, the Scottish Parliament project has become a great Bubble. As with financial bubbles, its bursting will bring a necessary corrective catharsis.
Bill goes on to compare the "two Scotlands" - first, the ruling class, ensconced in prosperous Edinburgh from where they emasculate the private sector with red tape while at the same time drawing salaries far beyond those of ordinary folk and have sky-high, inflation-proofed pensions to look forward to.

Then there is the "other Scotland":

I went to the valley of my birth, through the lowering towns of Lanarkshire into East Ayrshire, to the little Irvine valley towns of Darvel, Newmilns and Galston. These were the vibrant places of my childhood. They battle now to keep their vibrancy and their pride. For they are blighted, beaten, broken towns, with high unemployment and an ageing population.

From the lilac growing out of the windowless buildings to the bleak rows of boarded up little shops and businesses, the dereliction speaks to a long, continuing recession on which the Bubble People continue to be in denial.

I well remember those same East Ayrshire towns from my own childhood and I too drove through them a few weeks ago. There is still prosperity in the middle-class coastal towns of the county but inland Ayrshire is now utterly depressing. We could lay all the politicians in Edinburgh end to end and they still wouldn't create a real job. Bill thinks that the "Bubble" will burst and that the limits of government will become apparent to all. I'm not so sure but let's pray thet he is right.

Thursday, 12 June 2003

A socialist and his money are easily parted

The characteristic feature of modern capitalism is mass production of goods destined for consumption by the masses. The result is a tendency towards a continuous improvement in the average standard of living, a progressing enrichment of the many. Capitalism deproletarianizes the "common man" and elevates him to the rank of a "bourgeois."
Thus starts The Anti-Capitalistic Mentality written by Ludwig von Mises in 1956.

The misguided souls identified by von Mises are alive and well here in Scotland:

THE Scottish Socialist Party’s leading benefactor is the son of a wealthy industrialist who has used a family legacy to further Tommy Sheridan’s political cause, The Scotsman has learned.
Mr McGrail describes himself as a "committed socialist", presumably unlike his father who was a public benefactor by virtue of founding a company that continues to satisfy customers and which now employs 240 people.

As the Mises Institute puts it:

He (von Mises) stresses that under capitalism, one's economic position largely depends on one's ability to satisfy the needs of the mass of the consumers. Many, unable or unwilling to do so, prefer a society of status in which position depends on birth rather than individual responsibility.
Sadly, McGrail has not followed in his father's footsteps but has instead given financial support to the Scottish Socialist Party. What a waste of his inheritance, for socialism is the ultimate "society of status".

Let's cut Scottish wages!

As part of the plan to speed British entry into the Euro, Gordon Brown has come up with various measures to bring about convergence with the continental economies. The UK housing market is very different from those of other European countries. A move to fixed-rate mortgages has been mooted as well as reforms to the planning laws, with the threat of additional stamp duty or even VAT on house sales lurking in the background. Homeowners here in Scotland, especially in Edinburgh and certain parts of Glasgow, have seen large increases in the value of their homes. Threats of additional taxes on housing will not be welcome.

I hesitate to say this, but another of the Chancellor's proposals sounds rather promising. Brown is planning to introduce local or regional pay bargaining in the public sector.

About time too.

Scotland has a higher proportion of public sector workers than the UK average. National wage bargaining makes government jobs disproportionately attractive here. Private companies in Scotland face higher council taxes and water bills and pay much more in transport costs but cheaper land and lower wages can compensate. Except, of course, the public sector is offering nationally set wages and these are often markedly higher than those that private companies can afford in this part of the world. People with most skills will often refuse to consider private sector employment.

The unions are opposed to any ending of national pay bargaining in the public sector where so many of their members are employees. Although I don't support plans to take the UK into the Euro, I do hope that Gordon Brown is able to reform national pay bargaining. Until we are able to sweep away almost all government jobs, at least let's remove the competitive advantage they enjoy over wealth creators.

Wednesday, 11 June 2003

Parliament fiasco update

There is a useful analysis in today's Scotsman entitled "Where exactly did your £375m go?"

Scotland's dome

The cost of the new Scottish parliament building has now risen by another 10% to £375 million. Contrary to what many people think, the decision to construct a new parliament building wasn't made in Scotland:
MSPs are not only embarrassed by criticisms aimed at them over the cost, but angered that they are being blamed for events over which they appear to have little control. Most of the early work on the building was under way, on the orders of Westminster, which chose the site, architect and main contractors, before the first Scottish Parliament met in 1999.
Tony Blair and the late Donald Dewar (then Secretary of State for Scotland at Westminster) opposed the use of the former Royal High School building which everyone up here had thought would be the home of the new parliament. The RHS was already set up with a perfectly adequate debating chamber but was seen by Dewar as a "nationalist shibboleth" because pro-devolution supporters had camped outside the site for almost 20 years. Labour's fear of the SNP has cost the Scottish taxpayers £375m and climbing.

The ongoing mismanagement of this project by our own local politicians should be compared with what's happening a few hundred yards along the road where the Royal Bank of Scotland has become the most profitable bank in the world:

According to the report into profitability at the world’s big banks by the respected research body Boston Consulting Group (BCG), RBS has delivered better value for shareholders over the past five years than the US’ biggest banks, including Morgan Stanley and Citigroup.
Scottish businesses are capable of being world class. It's such a pity that the political class lets us down.

Tuesday, 10 June 2003

Too many accountants?

Concern has often been expressed over possible conflicts of interest when a company's auditors are also hired to provide other business services. More attention has been paid to this "problem" since the Enron affair:
Critics argue that auditors might be prepared to overlook accounting ruses when they have such a powerful extra financial incentive for retaining the client.
There is a simple reason why accounting firms are able to earn so much fee income from non-audit work and that reason is politics. Ever increasing amounts of red tape make it essential for directors to pay large sums for tax advice and also for ensuring compliance with regulations. Accountants have the necessary expertise and give company directors someone to sue if it all goes wrong. If politicians want to cut the amounts spent with the "big four", why not scrap some of the excessive bureaucracy?

Sunday, 8 June 2003

Nessie returns

The tourist season has started at Loch Ness:
LAST Sunday proved a good day for monster spotting with no less than three sightings in eight hours — as many as recorded in the whole of 2002.

Two of the sightings were from the cruise boat Royal Scot and the third was claimed by a fisherman at around 10pm. All were reported in the Fort Augustus area.

And the local response:
Gary Campbell of the Loch Ness Monster Fan Club was happy to hear of so many sightings after a quiet year.

Good news indeed. Make mine a large malt too, Mr Campbell.

Fly the friendly skies

EasyJet has decided to hire a new generation of cabin crew:
The company has embarked on a major recruitment campaign aimed at attracting more "mature" staff to the skies, with positions open to men and women up to the age of 60.
As a "mature" person myself, I thoroughly approve of this move but even this good-news story has its little bit of Marxist nonsense thrown in:
Industry observers have already suggested that EasyJet’s real motive is to drive down costs by paying more mature men and women, who are seeking a career change, less than younger applicants who have greater job options.
There's nothing at all wrong with trying to "drive down costs", even if it's done by paying reduced salaries to older folk. Letting people work for the market rate is how less fashionable social groups can obtain employment. With any luck, though, EasyJet's policy will prove so popular with passengers that the oldsters will command a premium rate of pay.

Saturday, 7 June 2003


Rosie Kane, the newly elected Socialist MSP doesn't like the word "ned". I was pleased to note that most respondents on the BBC website disagree with Ms Kane.

Friday, 6 June 2003

The man who can't say "no"

It looks like the cabinet will say "no" to the Euro next week - for the time being. Tony Blair, of course, wants Britain to sign up for the new currency:
He has resolved that Britain should adopt the euro. He wants the "no" to sound like "yes" - and mean "yes". So the issue is therefore about how to keep the door ajar wide enough so that, no matter that the boffins have said "no, not yet", he can still say "yes - and maybe quite soon" - even in the lifetime of this parliament.
As Bill Jamieson says, for many of us joining the Euro would be a political issue at least as much as an economic one and the government will not discuss that point. Economic convergence has not happened and despite increasing red tape we still enjoy the benefit of a greater degree of flexibility in our labour market:
But it is not only Britain that will have to change. Labour-market inflexibility in the euro-zone is another major obstacle, and the timetable for reform is not in Mr Blair’s hands. That is why, if we are not adequately converged now, it is highly unlikely such convergence can be achieved in two to three years.
Exactly. Radical economic change is needed in the existing Euro-zone before we should even consider joining and there is no sign of that taking place:
GERMANY'S archaic labour laws are meant to protect those in work rather than those out of it. With close to 4.5 million people on the dole and recession looming, a humble taxi driver from Nuremberg has become the patron saint of businessmen seeking to reform the rules that are among the most mind-bendingly complex - and costly - in the world.

The case of Lorenz Pfatrisch is now quoted by the German Chambers of Trade and Commerce, the equivalent of the Confederation of British Industry, and the Association of Small Businessmen as the epitome of what is wrong with the world's third largest economy.

The sort of nonsense faced by Herr Pfatrisch is killing Europe's economy. We don't need more of it here.

Thursday, 5 June 2003

"Control" is not the answer

Dr James Wilkie just doesn't get it:
I am glad Donald Findlay, QC, has not received much support for his advocacy of drug legalisation (your report, 2 June). It would be the height of irresponsibility to do any such thing.

This is not a problem that is entirely susceptible to control at national level, and certainly not by such means.

The whole point is that "control" is the problem and not the solution. That's what Donald Findlay was stating a few days ago.

Fortunately Norman Paterson has responded promptly:

The problem with drugs is that dependance feeds crime - theft, robbery, prostitution - as a means to obtain the money to buy supplies, because they are illegal and expensive.

It also costs the taxpayer money to fund what have been ineffectual attempts to block the traffickers.

Dr Wilkie would do well to examine some of the libertarian writings on the drug issue rather than relying on the tired statist rantings of the United Nations.

Should this be celebrated?

Many, many years ago I studied business law and well remember the famous case of Donoghue v Stevenson that established the principle of a "duty of care" even where no contract existed. Mrs Donoghue had become ill after consuming ginger beer that had contained a slug. Stevenson was the manufacturer. Now, the case is being commemorated:
A group of Canadian lawyers recently exchanged "Donoghue v Stevenson" paperweights, crafted from a genuine Paisley paving stone found where Mr Minghella’s cafe used to be.

A party of American lawyers gathered to worship the "shrine", better known to Paisley buddies as Wellmeadow.

And a modern day ginger beer drinks company, Fentiman, is running competitions to celebrate the anniversary.

I am not entirely happy that this case is being celebrated - especially by lawyers:
Millions of damages actions around the world now begin with Lord Atkin’s ruling in the Paisley snail case
The "compensation culture" has gone far beyond that which is reasonable and threatens to slow down human progress.

Wednesday, 4 June 2003

Get on your bike!

A quarter of Glasgow adults are claiming some type of benefit. Although 18,000 are "job-seeking", another 70,000 are claiming for incapacity and disability. This is an extraordinary situation and extremely harmful:
The research also shows that the longer people are on benefit, the less likely they are to actively seek employment.

This so-called dependancy culture is regarded as a major obstacle to the city's future economic growth.

I have little doubt that almost all of the ninety-odd thousand "sick and disabled" people would quickly find work if benefits were cut or time-limited, but I realised long ago that the government's policy is to put the entire British population on welfare leaving me as the sole taxpayer.

(Things look a bit sick in Holland too.)

Tuesday, 3 June 2003

Big brother will be watching you

This year's Edinburgh International Book Festival will pay special attention to the work of George Orwell. Oh dear, I thought, when I read this:
The spirit of the prophetic writer of Animal Farm and 1984 is to dominate the book festival, which will feature public debate by leading authors on the war in Iraq, the grim underbelly of Western capitalism, modern sexual politics, the tensions between Europe and the US, and the role of the media.
Just as I was wondering why the organisers didn't mind Eastern capitalism I read this:
Ms Lockerbie was keen to stress that she did not want the festival to become associated with anti-war or anti-US thought, and has taken care to ensure that more conservative and neo-conservative thinkers are present, as well as radical and left-wing writers and thinkers.
No paleo-conservatives or libertarians I note, but we'll be there keeping an eye on things.

MacDonalds' revenge

Andrew McDonald is the general manager of the Edinburgh Dungeon - not a storage place for members of the Scottish parliament but a well-known tourist site. For three centuries the MacDonalds have maintained a feud with the Clan Campbell. The Dungeon boss has decided to take revenge by increasing entrance fees for Campbells:
More than 1000 Campbells started receiving letters yesterday, sent by a MacDonald at the Edinburgh Dungeon, telling them the higher entry fee was "an act of revenge" for the massacre in 1692 when at least 38 MacDonalds were killed by the opposing clan.
Mr McDonald's own bosses are not amused:
Sarah Oakley, head of sales and marketing at the company's headquarters in Poole, said: "We will be disciplining Mr McDonald and Mark Oakley, our head of public relations, who had been told of the venture but did not consider the implications before giving the idea the go-ahead.
Come on now - Mr McDonald should get a bonus. His stunt has created a huge amount of free publicity for his employers.

On the economics of public houses

I was partaking of a small beverage at lunchtime today when the landlord moaned that the price of his "all channel including full sports coverage" cable television service had been increased. We were asked to guess the new rate. I ventured £1,200 per year - about four times what I used to pay at my flat in London. The actual price had been increased from £5,000 to £8,000 a year and he needed to sell £24,000 worth of booze simply to cover the cost of the television.

Someone suggested that a few go-go dancers could be hired for less than that but perhaps it wouldn't be such a good idea if it meant no more football.

Being a more high-minded sort of chap, I observed that his gross profit margin must be in the region of 33%. He hesitated before admitting that the target was more like 40%. So when you buy a £2 pint (I am no longer in London), £1.20 goes to the brewery and I suspect that most of that is passed on to Gordon Brown.

Whose country is it?

Mr and Mrs Boyle wished to give their daughter a Gaelic name but the bureaucrats refused. Now they have relented:
The General Register Office for Scotland has now issued a climbdown. Aoife will be the first in the country to have her name registered in the language which has been spoken in Scotland for more than 1500 years.

The couple were told Gaelic was classed as a foreign language and could not be accepted on the register, but the Register Office yesterday relented after taking legal advice. It is understood that European law which protects traditional languages was a factor.

I don't speak Gaelic and don't think that it should be subsidised by the taxpayer, but it is ludicrous that the Register Office originally refused to register the child's name on the grounds that "Gaelic was classed as a foreign language" and that it needed European law to correct the situation. Listen guys, despite the Auld Alliance, this isn't France. We should be free to name children as we wish.

Incidentally, what would the reaction of the authorities have been if someone had tried to register their child as Osama McBin Laden?

Monday, 2 June 2003


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A lawyer tells the truth

Scotland's best-known criminal lawyer has called for the legalisation of all drugs. Unsurprisingly, politicians don't agree with Donald Findlay:
Michael Matheson, the deputy justice spokesman for the SNP, insisted legalising all drugs would send the wrong message to society.
The "wrong message" being that the state doesn't own our bodies. That would never do, would it?

Mr Findlay wrote an interesting article in the Edinburgh Evening News last week in which he said:

The Scottish Parliament works on a limited budget, but somebody has got to have the strength of character to stand up and say that we will spend less on education and health for a year or so and spend the money on law and order.
If the state has any legitimate purpose, it is to protect law-abiding folk from criminals. Education and health are not proper functions of government. If we abandon the ludicrous war on drugs and return most of the state's activities to the people, we shall be able to deal appropriately with our shocking crime wave.

This is how the ruling class behaves

Glasgow Labour councillor Hanzala Malik has invested £27.000 in a flat that he intends to rent out as an investment. More will be spent on upgrading the property. Good for him we might think - another budding capitalist. But what about this:
However, when it is leased out, Mr Malik and his wife Haleema, 40, who is also a Glasgow Labour councillor, will be occupying a state-subsidised house in Northpark Street, in Mrs Malik's ward of Firhill.

The couple pay about £200 a month, or half the market rate, for the modern three-bedroom terraced house, which has a front and back garden.

The home is rented from Queen's Cross Housing Association, which has more than 600 people on its waiting list.

The two councillors get £30,000 a year in allowances and Mrs Malik has another job that also looks likely to be paid by the taxpayer. Their subsidised home costs the rest of us another £2,400 annually. It looks like they consume over £50,000 of taxpayers' money every year. No wonder they can afford to invest in property.

Malik says that he can't afford to buy a property big enough for himself. On fifty grand a year! Pull the other one. Labour should throw them out.

Sunday, 1 June 2003

Remembering 1944

To mark the week of D-Day I am posting (as a PDF file) an extract from the diary of my uncle Eric Dykes who served in the army as a dentist.