Sunday, 30 November 2003

Capitalists: defending Scottish culture

We all know that big multinational companies are destroying local and national traditions with their relentless homogenisation of products and globalisation of the world's economy. We also know that this trend can only be resisted by the heroic efforts of disinterested politicians who are free from the blandishments of self-interest. Well, don't we?

No, actually.

Last week the Scottish Parliament attacked our traditions:

THE Scottish Parliament has axed Christmas.

Holyrood chiefs don't want the word Christmas to appear on any of their official greetings cards for fear that non-Christians may be offended.

And if MSPs insist that the word is printed on their official cards, they will only see it in small print.

So much for Scotland's politicians defending our culture and our history.

What, then, of big business? I visited my local pub yesterday and the staff were busy putting up the Christmas decorations. The pub has recently been acquired by a large, capitalist, profit-oriented company. The supposedly evil and tradition-destroying multinational owners had sent an E-mail to the pub manager reminding him that Christmas decorations had to be on display from this weekend. Were any customers offended? I think not.

St Andrew's Day greetings to Dundee

Readers may have noticed that I'm not a fan of state-run education. For those not convinced I urge you to read Independence or Stagnation? by Dennis O'Keeffe and David Marsland. Look at the Civitas website for details.

Nevertheless, I must commend the University of Dundee, which has been rated best university for science:

Dundee University was given a further accolade as a centre for medical excellence yesterday after being named the best scientific institution in which to work within the UK and the third-best outside the United States.
This is not the first time that Dundee has been recognised:
The accolade can be added to the one the university received recently from the Institute for Scientific Information in Philadelphia, which showed research papers published by scientists at the University of Dundee over the ten-year period to April 2003 were quoted more frequently by other scientists than papers from any other university in Europe.
"Best in UK." "Third-best outside the US." "Most quoted in Europe." That's very impressive and perhaps all the more pleasing for a city that's often treated as the poor cousin of Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen. Even Dundee's prestigious neighbour, St Andrews, should take note.

Friday, 28 November 2003

Which anthem?

I rarely agree with Mike Watson but he is on to something here:
MIKE Watson, Scotland’s former sports minister, yesterday called on the English rugby team to come up with its own national anthem - because God Save The Queen "gets up the noses" of the Scots and the Welsh.

Lord Watson, the Labour MSP for Glasgow Cathcart, said that while he congratulated England on their rugby World Cup success, he disagreed with the decision to play the British national anthem before their matches.

The Conservatives are correct in stating that matters of this sort should be left to the relevant sporting authorities.

Nevertheless, as Watson says:

"But at a time when I think there is greater warmth felt towards England in Scotland, I don’t think the English help when they breast-beat before matches singing an anthem which is not the anthem of England. It does get up the noses of people in Scotland and Wales when England effectively suggest they are the UK. It’s that sort of attitude that doesn’t help break down the rather negative feelings some people in Scotland have towards England."
I have noticed that Scottish pub customers will very often support English club teams when they play against teams from elsewhere in Europe. The same neighbourliness is not extended to English national teams precisely because of the "England equals the UK" attitude that is pervasive in the London-based media.

Note these letters, in particular the first one:

Susie Glover (Letters, 25 November) records her distress at Scottish attitudes towards the English. It would be sad if she has experience of this at a personal level, although I suspect not.

I feel she is wrong to say that there is widespread dislike in Scotland of English people. It is more likely a well-founded resentment of the overwhelming tide of Englishness which washes over us all day and every day from all sections of the media.

Switch on Radio Scotland and, while the headlines are often read by native Scots in their own accent, it is an English-accented announcer who reads us the main news about "Pethsha" and "Ahba-deen". We resent the implication that such an accent is superior.

Mr Ribet's views are very widely held in Scotland. I believe that the United Kingdom will need to extricate itself from the European Union in the near future. That will be all the more difficult if the various nations that make up the UK fail to respect each other's identities.

Wednesday, 26 November 2003

And about time too

It looks as though the 7:84 Theatre Company may be on the way out:
THE FUTURE of one of Scotland’s longest-established theatre companies was under serious threat last night as the Scottish Arts Council said it would no longer guarantee the group’s £200,000 annual grant.
This outfit is one of the most pernicious in the land:
7:84 was founded with an explicitly socialist and idealistic goal of taking political theatre to the people.
That's exactly what it has done for 30 years and I would guess that its performances have played no small part in attracting so many young Scots to socialism.

The company's title reflects their claim that "7 % of the population of Great Britain owns 84% of the capital wealth." Much analysis has been made of such claims since that statistic was published by the Economist in 1966. Nowadays we know to make allowances for movements between wealth groups over a whole lifetime, to take account of income as well as capital, to recognise the fact that most shares are owned by institutions that are in turn investing on behalf of the broad mass of the population, to calculate the capital value of taxpayer-financed, inflation-linked public sector pensions, and to work out the capital that would be required to fund millions of welfare recipients over their lifetimes. The 7:84 people also fail to distinguish between economics and politics. Economic wealth is the result of freely entered into contracts unless politics interferes. Perhaps one of their writers could come up with a performance that examines the consequences of 67 politicians in the Scottish Parliament having total political control over 5 million subjects.

Employers and employees

The Channel 4 News last night contained an item about the problems facing defined benefit pension plans. Increasing longevity and falling stock markets were blamed. No mention was made of Gordon Brown’s removal of tax credits for pension schemes or of the huge amount of extra red tape that Labour has imposed on business. We certainly weren’t told that public sector pension plans continue to expand whilst benefiting from inflation linking at the taxpayers’ expense.

We saw an interview with the chairman of Unilever PLC who was explaining that his company plans to increase contributions to its pension scheme. The reporter asked: “You think that some costs should be passed on to the employees, don’t you?” The chairman confirmed that employee contributions would go up in addition to those made by the company. Big mistake. The chairman was made to sound like some evil exploiter who was unwilling to pay for his workers’ well-earned retirement. What he should have done is to point out that employee’s total remuneration is determined by the marginal productivity of the worker. It makes no difference to the company whether such payment is made as salary, “employer” pension contributions or, indeed, “employer” national insurance contributions. Dividing contributions into “employee” and “employer” is a con designed to mislead workers.

Tuesday, 25 November 2003

More from the Libertarian Alliance Conference

In the first photograph LA Director Dr Chris Tame presents the Liberty in Action Award to Dr Robert Lefever.

The second photograph shows Dr Tim Evans, LA Public Affairs Director, presenting the Liberty in Theory Award to Professor David Marsland.

Monday, 24 November 2003

Real liberals

I took this photograph yesterday at the Libertarian Alliance conference in London. The event was held at the National Liberal Club.

The Grumpy Liberation Front speaks out

Stuart Crocket may seek Europe's help. His human rights have been attacked. Perhaps, he thinks, it's time to sue:
Now, true to form, Stuart Crocket is threatening to take his golf club to the European court for banning him from the clubhouse.

Crocket’s reputation as a stickler for golfing rules and regulations has resulted in the 79-year-old being allowed to play Glen Golf Club, North Berwick, but ordered to keep away from the facilities.

The feisty former accountant is not even allowed to use the toilets at the club despite his advanced years.

The ‘tee-but-no-pee’ ruling has - perhaps predictably - incensed Crocket, who claims it is a breach of his human rights and has vowed to take the case to Strasbourg.

Goodness me. The golf club is perfectly entitled to make its own rules, pick its own members and throw them out if they don't comply. Assuming that's what's happened here, nobody's "human rights" have been abridged and Europe should keep its nose out.

Nevertheless, it does rather look as though Mr Crocket may be a bit of a character:

The player said Crocket was a "dangerous guy". "He gets this bee in his bonnet and that’s him away. He’s well known for his obstinacy all round the town in shops and whatever."

Club officials at Tantallon would certainly agree. While at the club, Crocket made 170 complaints in a year and was hauled up for making "excessive, improper and unnecessary" use of the club suggestion book.

He also annoyed members by tipping off the Lord Lyon that the club crest had not been properly registered in accordance with the rules of heraldry.

Actually, I'm beginning to warm to Mr Crocket. Suggestion books should be used, and the Lord Lyon, King of Arms is not to be mocked, for he has the power to:
erase unwarrantable arms, and to "dash them furth of" stained-glass windows, break unwarrantable seals, and, where the Fiscal or complainer moves for forfeiture, to grant warrant for seizing movable goods and gear upon which arms are unwarrantably represented.
In other words the Lord Lyon is a fellow Grumpy Old Man, and, just occasionally, I feel a wee bit grumpy myself.

North Berwick is a fine town with few of the problems that face so many other places. Things could be worse. Perhaps it's time for the Glen Golf Club to readmit Mr Crocket.

We are grumpy and we are proud!

Clear these Caledonian carpetbaggers from this chamber now!

It looks as though the Tories may be showing some sense - at last.
SCOTTISH MPs would be banned from voting on English affairs under controversial plans being drawn up for Michael Howard’s first election manifesto, Scotland on Sunday has learned.

Under the radical move, which would see the Commons sit as an English parliament, the Speaker would be required to rule on whether bills are relevant to Scotland. If they were not, Scots MPs would be ordered to leave the chamber.

This is well overdue and it was indeed a "constitutional outrage" that Tony Blair was only able to get his foundation hospital scheme through the Commons with the aid of Scottish MPs whose own constituents are unaffected because health is a devolved matter for Scotland.

Scotland on Sunday claims that the Tory plan:

is itself highly contentious because it would mean the creation of two classes of parliamentarian.
Rubbish. There are already two classes of MP: those who can only vote on matters relevant to their own constituents and those who are able to interfere with things that are none of their goddamned business. It is perfectly appropriate for Scots to be represented at Westminster. Their numbers should be in proportion to our population and not reduced below that level because we now have a Parliament in Edinburgh. But it is essential that our MPs should only debate and vote upon subjects that are not devolved to Edinburgh. It follows from this that their salaries must be adjusted downwards.

The old days

I took this photograph inside the fire station at Prestwick Airport. The work was painted by some of the firemen who used to work at the airport. In the background one can see the old pre-1960s terminal building.

Friday, 21 November 2003

Pull the finger out

Today I read of yet another example of our inability to organise a proper infrastructure:
GROWING fears of gridlock on the west side of Edinburgh today prompted demands for government action to prevent traffic grinding to a halt.

Up to 20,000 extra jobs could soon be located along the A8 corridor, but the road system is already struggling to cope with existing commuters.

There is a huge amount of investment going on to the west of Edinburgh, in particular the construction of the new world headquarters for the Royal Bank of Scotland. The neighbouring airport is getting busier all the time with our first scheduled transatlantic flights starting next spring. I wrote the other day about the endless delays in opening the new Edinburgh Park railway station. Why do transport links take so long to get built?
The Royal Bank headquarters, employing more than 3000 people, is due to open in 2006, but trams serving the west of the city won’t be running until 2009 and a rail link to the airport is scheduled for 2010.
It's all very well to call for "government action" but it's government bureaucracy that's behind all of these problems. When I lived in London there was a plan to resignal the Central Line. If I recall correctly it was to take 10 years to complete. I seem to remember someone pointing out that the Victorians had built the whole line in three years! We should be building the necessary transport links to be ready before the opening of these new developments.

Wednesday, 19 November 2003

Freedom, Whisky and Truth

A very Scottish row has broken out about our national drink:
At a crunch meeting behind closed doors at the Glasgow offices of Morrison Bowmore, senior executives from all of the major distillers rallied behind the industry’s representative body, the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA), saying it still had a "significant role to play" in the resolution of the issue.
So what's causing all this angst?

The giant of the distilling world, Diageo, has decided to alter the ingredients of Cardhu, its hugely popular malt whisky. Hitherto, Cardhu was a "single malt", that is it came from one distillery. The Cardow distillery can't keep up with demand and Cardhu is to become a "vatted malt" containing five separate whiskies. Diageo protests its innocence:

"Pure Malt" may not be a familiar term to many Scotch whisky drinkers. But we didn’t invent it – it has long been a recognised expression within the whisky business, meaning that there is no grain spirit in the product. Another term for Pure Malt is Vatted Malt, but this does not translate easily into other languages.

It is not a blended whisky either, since this involves combining malt whisky with distilled grain spirit. Neither is it a ‘single malt’, which is a term meaning that the malt whisky is from one distillery only. As we have explained, Cardhu Pure Malt will contain other Speyside malt whiskies including malt whisky from Cardow distillery (formerly known as Cardhu, but will deliver the same pure Speyside flavour and style. This means that we can supply much more of it to those overseas markets where it has become a firm favourite.

The rest of the industry has "united against Diageo over its decision to relaunch Cardhu as a "pure malt"." I think that they are correct. As Diageo acknowledges, the term "Pure Malt" is not a familiar term to consumers. If I were to see a bottle describing itself as "Pure Malt" I would have assumed that it was the product of one distillery. Unsurprisingly our politicians have got involved although Tony Blair is "not entirely sure this is a matter for government." Diageo seems to agree for they have stated that: "ultimately, the issue had to be resolved by the SWA."

Hopefully this can be resolved by the trade association without resort to lawyers and courtrooms, thus demonstrating that private arbitration can resolve complex matters.

Alternatively, a few cases of pure, single, vatted, and even blended whiskies could be sent round to the editorial suite of Freedom and Whisky where rigorous adjudication would take place. I'll drink to that.

Let's hear it for the customers.

Yesterday I wrote about the problems of the NHS, noting that more spending was not the solution. Today this Scotsman editorial makes the same argument:
The NHS will not be reformed through management from the centre or through massive public expenditure increases alone. This recipe has already been tried in Scotland to no avail.

Only by empowering the patient, and then letting hospitals and primary care units respond to customer direction, will the NHS improve delivery.

I think that we'll wait a hell of a long time before hearing Scottish Labour using the word "customer" in the context of the NHS.

Free Life

Free Life, the journal of the Libertarian Alliance, is now available in an attractive new pdf format. Go to the site of editor Sean Gabb. Click on "Free Life Magazine" for the latest issue.

Tuesday, 18 November 2003

Another day, another tax demand

Melanie Reid is on of the Glasgow Herald's regular commentators. In other words, she is a leftist. So it's no surprise that when she writes about the NHS today she calls for yet more spending:
Having paid once, through taxes, we are being asked to pay again on an arbitrary and emotional basis; and how much better it would be, by far, to pay more in tax and avoid such inconsistency.
The "paying again" bit refers to spending on medical research by charities. In Melanie's world it's much better to forcibly make people pay tax than let them contribute voluntarily. None of this is very surprising in the Herald.

On second thoughts though it's only 47 miles from Glasgow to Edinburgh. One would have thought that Herald commentators might have heard of The Scotsman. Perhaps they may take a sly peek at their rival now and again. If so, surely they can't have missed the regular articles on the Scottish NHS by Fraser Nelson, the political editor of the Edinburgh paper.

Mr Nelson has written about the NHS in the current issue of The Spectator:

Imagine a British National Health Service flowing with French or German levels of funding. This dream, we are promised, will soon be delivered in return for higher taxes. But for the impatient, there is a solution: visit Scotland.

For some time now, NHS Scotland has been living in Tony Blair’s promised land, enjoying European levels of health spending. Its NHS budget of £1,300 per head is a full 21 per cent higher than England’s. But instead of being an alluring example of what lies ahead, Scotland warns of disaster. Next year, it will claim two records: for Europe’s highest state health-spending and its lowest life expectancy. It is living proof that the NHS system does not work.

Not that this means anything to Scotland's governing clique:
At every criticism of their health policy, Labour MSPs in the Scottish Parliament point to this extra money, as if this was an end in itself. Labour, they say, has brought more doctors, nurses and investment. This is indeed true — but the staggering truth is that NHS Scotland has not improved as a result.
This is not a new message from Mr Nelson. He has been writing about Scotland's "European" levels of health spending for quite a long time now and has consistently exposed the lack of return from all that money. Now it seems that English NHS expenditure has also reached the promised targets and there is no reason to think that things will turn out any better down south than in Scotland. Fraser Nelson understands that the NHS itself is the problem, not a lack of resources. Melanie Reid hasn't even heard that this debate is going on, never mind coming up with any new contribution.

Decommissioning windmills

Here is a letter in The Scotsman from Neil Craig, a regular contributor to F & W's comments section.

Conference reminder

There's still time to register for the annual conference of the Libertarian Alliance that will be held in London this weekend. As there are only a few days to go, register by e-mail and pay when you arrive.

Monday, 17 November 2003

Why are we waiting?

An opinion piece in today's Edinburgh Evening News complains about the state of Scotland's planning system. A few days ago the Scotsman's Bill Jamieson was telling us of the problems that he was subjected to by his local planners:
Put out the flags. Work finally starts this month on Inverogle Cottage, my derelict wee house in Lochearnhead. What I thought would be a straightforward process of planning permission (eight weeks at most) and a building warrant has taken eight gruelling, nerve-wracking months.
Business too suffers from the planning system:
According to the "system", no planning application should take more than eight weeks to complete. But, according to Gerry More, a senior executive of Cala Homes and one of the authors of the CBI report, most businesses now expect planning applications of any size to take two years to process.
And if you think it's only greedy capitalists who lose out, think again:
Ten years ago, land would account for between 7.5 per cent and 12.5 per cent of the value of a new house. Nowadays, it could be anything between 25 per cent and 50 per cent.

It’s hard not to disagree with Stewart Milne’s blunt conclusion: "It’s crazy when you end up in situations where people are buying properties where 50 per cent of the value is going towards the land. The one thing we’ve got in Scotland is an abundance of land for the size of the population we’ve got."

So it's not only an out-of-control money supply that's behind the spiralling cost of housing.

The latest infrastructure fiasco in the capital involves the "new" railway station at Edinburgh Park:

Plans for a station at Edinburgh Park were first floated more than five years ago, yet it took until August 2001 for agreement to be reached over owner-ship of the site and another year for the project to get planning permission.

Council leader Donald Anderson admitted he had been "driven daft" by the hold-ups over Edinburgh Park station, which has had its opening delayed by at least six months. Despite assurances early last month that it would be complete by October 29, officials at New Edinburgh Limited (NEL), the owners and developers of Edinburgh Park, have admitted it is still not finished.

I wonder if Councillor Anderson has noticed that's his own Labour Party that is responsible for all of these bureaucratic hold-ups. Someone needs to pull the finger out.

Something to look forward to

Like most sensible folk, I know that all that Kyoto Protocol stuff is anti-capitalist propaganda. But suppose, just suppose it’s all true. There is an upside:
WINE lovers will be able to buy their first vintage of Scottish wine within the next 50 years, say scientists.

Using computer models, the scientists at the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research, in Bracknell, say Britain will enjoy rising temperatures within the next five decades, possibly up by 2C, making it possible for viticulturists to develop vineyards north of the Border.

So global warming might be OK after all.

Not all of Scotland would benefit.

However:

Dr Elaine Booth, research officer at the SAC in Aberdeenshire, specialising in crops and soil research, suggests the drier east coast would be more suited to vineyards.
No problem: the rest of the country can continue to produce whisky and Irn-Bru.

If I keep eating my greens I may be around in 2050 to enjoy the odd bottle of Cote du Forth or Chateau Cowdenbeath.

Sunday, 16 November 2003

Eat your greens - before the food police pay a visit to a dinner table near you

Yes, that's the headline for this story in Scotland on Sunday:
Deacon, the Scottish parliament’s first health minister, says the Executive is already engaged in an "impressive range of work" to improve the country’s diet, including the creation of food co-operatives, breakfast clubs for schools and healthy-eating advertising. But she said that can only go so far.
But of course. We can't have politicians running around with nothing to do, can we? So we'll have to go further:
Deacon says if high nutritional standards for school meals cannot be achieved voluntarily, "the Executive may need to consider whether to use the force of law".

Deacon adds: "The Executive must also work with the UK government to address the enormous power of the multinationals and the force of their advertising, particularly the way they influence young people.

"Again, much can be achieved through dialogue and voluntary agreements, but legislative measures should not be ruled out."

Ms Deacon then goes on about "curbs", "action", "changing the contents of tins" and "changing the eating habits of the nation". And how is this to be achieved? Our brave politician is already thinking ahead:
There is no quick fix or simple solution and the Executive deserves credit for the start it has made. But as work progresses, it is to be hoped that our nation’s leaders are prepared to consider the full range of options on the menu of possible solutions."
So what final solution could there be? For a start that word "menu" needs to go. We can't have the people deciding what they want to eat. That way lays chaos and anarchy. There is a better way.

I note that over in America Wal-Mart has cancelled the testing of Radio Frequency Identification Devices following a consumer outcry. Use of these RFIDs has become very controversial in the US. But here in Scotland we're not troubled by any of that outmoded, eighteenth-century constitutional privacy nonsense, are we? Let's lead the world in the War on Obesity. It's time for Scotland's own RFIDs. We need to put a Real Food Identification Device inside every apple, lettuce and carrot. Then we must all be fitted with internal sensors to make sure that we are eating in the manner prescribed by Ms Deacon. Once a week we shall be herded along to our wonderful new Parliament building to be internally monitored to ensure foodalogical correctness.

A CHIP IN EVERY SCOT: now there's an election-winning slogan for you!

Graduates, plumbers and entrepreneurs

Here's yet another call for Scotland to increase its output of graduates. We all know who is going to be pleased by the advice of Richard Florida:
His comments will be welcomed by university chiefs who reject the idea that we are training “too many graduates and not enough plumbers”.
There's nothing at all wrong for more people to go to university as long as they are willing to bear the full economic cost of doing so. Of course in Professor Florida's native America it's normal for students to finance much or all of their own higher education. That's probably why American graduates are associated with economic growth and why so many of them want to work in the private sector. Simply expanding the ranks of taxpayer-financed students encourages the very dependency culture that is at the root of so many of Scotland's problems. What we really need is a few more entrepreneurs and I don't really mind if they are college dropouts like Bill Gates or Michael Dell.

Friday, 14 November 2003

Travels with two cameras

I brought my old Yashicamat 124G roll film camera out of retirement last Sunday.

This first photograph shows the seafront at Anstruther in the East Neuk of Fife. The famous Anstruther Fish Bar is just along to the right.

The second one is a 35mm photo of the River Tweed at Peebles:

Thursday, 13 November 2003

Throw them in!

I have no idea whether the redundant US Navy "ghost ships" that are to be dismantled at Hartlepool present any real danger to the public. The town’s MP Peter Mandelson thinks not. Friends of the Earth and other "environmentalists" are in full protest mode. The local ship recycling company Able UK Ltd talks of creating at least 200 new jobs and I imagine that the contract has preserved many existing jobs as well.

Last night I watched a story about this affair on the Channel 4 News as the first ship arrives in the UK. The "environmentalists" were given a great deal of coverage. The lady presenter then introduced the boss of Able UK as: "Perhaps the only man in Hartlepool who wants the ships here." Somehow I don’t think so.

There are 200 new jobs at the yard and there’ll be extra jobs at suppliers, as well as money flowing into local shops and other businesses. Perhaps Channel 4 imagines Hartlepool to be some sort of remote Victorian relic of the industrial revolution with undernourished workers running around in clogs and all the money from the contract flowing to the yard owner. I think that some burly members of the Hartlepudlian working class should toss a few "environmentalists" and southern TV folk into the town’s dock.

Wednesday, 12 November 2003

A joke - or is it?

As seen on The Daily Reckoning:

"WHAT IS POLITICS"


A little boy goes to his dad and asks, "What is Politics?"

Dad says, "Well son, let me try to explain it this way: I am the head of the family, so call me the president. Your mother is the administrator of the money, so call her the government. We're here to take care of your needs, so we'll call you the people. The nanny, we'll consider the working class and your baby brother, we'll call him the future. Now think about that and see if it makes any sense."

So the little boy goes off to bed thinking about what dad has said. Later that night, he hears his baby brother crying, so he gets up to check on him. He finds that the baby has severely soiled his diaper. So the little boy goes to his parents' room and finds his mother sound asleep. Not wanting to wake her, he goes to the nanny's room. Finding the door locked, he peeks in the keyhole and sees his father in bed with nanny. He gives up and goes back to bed.

The next morning the little boy says to his father, "Dad, I think I understand the concept of Politics now." The father says, "Good, son, Tell me in your own words what you think politics is all about." The little boy replies, "The president is screwing the working class while the government is sound asleep. The people are being ignored and the future is in deep doodoo."

Tuesday, 11 November 2003

Why not in Edinburgh?

Tony Blair has stirred up a hornets' nest:
Government plans for a new Supreme Court could undermine the independence of Scots law, legal experts claimed yesterday.

And the move could be unconstitutional if the new court is seen to be part of the England and Wales court system, it was argued.

The Faculty of Advocates is up in arms:
The faculty said it had "serious concern" that the Supreme Court plan, as drafted, fails to respect the independence of Scots law under the 1707 Act of Union.

Any court with jurisdiction in Scotland cannot be a part of the England and Wales court system, and the faculty warned: "The constitutional significance of this cannot be overstated.

"Any attempt to create a Supreme Court which did not comply with these requirements would be contrary to the constitution of the United Kingdom, and any purported act in, or affecting, Scotland in such a court would be unlawful and of no effect in Scotland."

I'm pleased to see that Scotland's lawyers are objecting to Blair's constitutional coup d'etat.

The editorial in The Herald says that:

The threat of crisis can be avoided by the prime minister taking up the faculty's suggestion to put the supreme court firmly out of the reach of government, perhaps by giving it a home outside London and having it sit on a UK-wide circuit; certainly by creating a body at arm's length from the administration to disburse funding.
That seems reasonable. Come to think of it I don't imagine that the Act of Union makes it unconstitutional for English cases to be held under Scots law. No one would have imagined such an eventuality. So why don't we set up the new UK Supreme Court here in Edinburgh, under Scots law? What could be wrong with that?

The Campaign for Real Education

Here's another call for a degree of privatisation in education:
Private schools should be given the chance to provide "state" education, a prominent figure in UK education claimed yesterday.

Pauline Davies, the president of the Girls’ Schools Association, said independent schools want parents to be able to put the cost of a state education towards a place in an independent school.

You've got to laugh when a local government education spokesman (Labour of course) says:
... there were no failing local authority schools in Scotland.
Eh! So how come the Labour leader in Dundee is sending her son to a private school?

I note that the Executive rejects suggestions that the private sector is no more expensive than state provision:

The cost of fees at a private day school is about £7,000 a year at secondary level and more than £5,000 at primary.

This year, Scottish Conservatives claimed that, while the Executive gives authorities £4,500 for each pupil, £1,500 was lost in bureaucracy.

A spokeswoman for the Executive rejected the Tories’ claims, insisting that authorities had to retain funds to pay for nurseries, special-needs education, school transport, school meals and education psychologists.

This completely ignores the question of economies of scale. The private sector supplies a very small proportion of the education "market". Imagine what the cost of food would be in Tesco or Safeway if groceries were also obtainable free from a National Food Service. "Free" at the point of consumption that is! Prices in private shops under such a food regime would be far higher than at present. Once education is solely provided by private institutions costs will plummet. If we must have taxpayer-funded education let's at least give the job to those best able to do it. Privatise the schools now.

Kilts reprieved

As reported here by Rab The EU has now backed down and agreed that kilts are not skirts.

I found this interesting:

Jack McConnell, the First Minister, stepped into the row when he learned about it yesterday, ordering Executive officials in Brussels to clarify the matter with EU bosses.

The Office of National Statistics also got involved, and Eurostat agreed to send out the amended forms.

I'm no fan of McConnell but he has kicked some EU ass and got this sorted. Tony Blair please note.

Monday, 10 November 2003

Three letters

The Scotsman carries three letters today about the economy.

Douglas Taylor warns:

What will happen when the boom in job vacancies for welfare liaison officers and senior administrative co-ordinators, that Bill Jamieson refers to (Opinion, 31 October), dries up? Our economy is more dependant on the public sector than is the rest of the UK. So when government spending meets its day of destiny, with the need for a country to pay its way in the world, Scotland’s economy will be disproportionately hard hit.
As Mr Taylor points out, we don't need the advice of leftist economists such as Paul Krugman. We've got quite enough of them here already. Yes, bring back Adam Smith.

Judith Begg writes:

Too often, economists, and indeed politicians, discuss economic policy with out reference to the reality of making it happen, and in the belief that the workforce can be directed to operate in the desirable manner on demand.
The only "direction" that the workforce needs is the one given by its customers in an unregulated market economy. I'm not sure that's what Ms Begg has in mind.

Allison Hunter makes this observation:

For instance, he (Paul Krugman) argued that Scotland could model itself on the economies of the states in the US, without acknowledging that they have a much higher degree of fiscal autonomy than Scotland does.
Not only does Scotland lack fiscal autonomy but so also does the UK itself. A US state may decide whether or not to impose a sales tax - some do, some don't - but the UK must levy VAT as a condition of being a member of the EU. The UK and Scotland need full fiscal freedom.

Minding one's own business

In Scotland on Sunday Peter Oborne laments the forthcoming departure of Michael Portillo from British politics. Perhaps it's our fault, he suggests:
Do we make too many demands on our politicians? Ever since he first rose to prominence as an ambitious young Thatcherite 20 years ago, Michael Portillo has been subject to endless attack, probing and exposure.

His private life - in particular some homosexual experiences when he was a young man - was for many years the object of innuendo and exposure.

Well, sorry, it's not our fault. We pay so much attention to the "private" lives of politicians because they interfere so much with ours. If politicians didn't run schools we wouldn't pay so much attention to which schools their children went to - see the previous post. When they stop telling us what to eat we'll let them get on with their private lives. If politicians are necessary at all - and that's by no means certain - they should limit themselves to helping us defend ourselves against aggressors and do nothing else.

Our own Diane Abbott

This time it's the Labour leader in Dundee:
THE Labour leader of Dundee City Council was condemned last night for sending her child to a £7,000-a-year private school despite running an administration whose schools have recorded some of the worst exam results in Scotland.
Note how one Labour "insider" responds to the outcry from parents:
The Scottish Labour Party last night refused to be drawn on the subject. However one party insider sought to put distance between the party and Shimi.

The insider said: "It’s utterly and entirely reprehensible to use someone’s child as part of a political attack. But I think that a lot of us could see why people in Dundee will be disappointed to hear of this."

This is nonsense. The Labour party uses children for political purposes all the time. Why else is it against the use of education vouchers and home schooling? It's because Labour wants to maintain control over children through its friends in the schools. This is what one of Labour's victims has to say:
Another parent asked not to be named out of fear that she and her son, who attends a Dundee high school, would receive a "hard time" from teachers at the school who were members of the local Labour Party.
We need to get Scottish children out of the grasp of these socialist "insiders" now. Let's privatise all of our schools immediately.

Nuke Brussels now!

This time they've gone too far.

Tony Blair must act today.

All Scotsmen have been insulted:

EUROCRATS have ruled that the kilt is "womenswear''.

Spaniard Pedro Solbes, an EU commissioner, insists our national dress should be listed as a skirt on official forms.

And kiltmakers could be fined up to £1000 if they don't comply.

They have taken away our freedom but they won't make us wear skirts!

Saturday, 8 November 2003

Friday, 7 November 2003

Scotsman letter from Neil Craig

Here is another letter on education from a Freedom and Whisky reader.

Another menace that needs to be banned

The Blair government prefers to ban weapons instead of bringing perpetrators to justice. We have seen this with guns and now, as David Carr has pointed out on Samizdata, the same "logic" is being applied to fireworks:
If, as Mr.Watson avers, unruly teenagers are using fireworks as weapons, then the problem is not a lack of law but a notable and palpable lack of enforcement. If the police are either unable or unwilling to enforce the laws that already exist then why does Mr.Watson or anybody else assume that they will suddenly spring into action to enforce new ones? The problem is not that the state has 'come down hard on misuse' but, rather, that the state's agents clearly cannot be bothered to 'come down' to any measurable degree at all.

I therefore predict that the new regime of which Mr.Watson is so proud will make not a jot of difference. The thugs who terrorise their elderly neighbours with firecrackers will simply carry on regardless and that will cause a whole new round of hand-wringing and cries of 'something must be done'. Sadly, it will add impetus to the already vocal lobby demanding the nationalisation of fireworks or their outright prohibition. As with firearms, rather than bring the full force of the law to bear on those who misuse, it is easier to simply abolish all use. This is another 'thin end of the wedge'. Not because it achieves the desired objective but because it won't.

Mr Carr is quite right, though if it is Labour's policy to crack down on all potentially anti-social devices we must pay attention to this story:
The controversial deal to select Holyrood as the site of the Scottish Parliament was cooked up in a chance meeting on an evening commuter train to Glasgow, it emerged yesterday. John Clement, a surveyor and property fixer, found himself squeezed next to Anthony Andrew, a senior Scottish Office civil servant, when he travelled through to Glasgow one evening in late September, 1997.
So it seems that we are spending £400 million on a Scottish Parliament building as a result of a "chance meeting" on a train. Clearly this sort of thing can't be allowed to happen again. BAN TRAINS NOW.

Thursday, 6 November 2003

Traffic chaos hits Auld Reekie

I'd just finished moaning about possible bus restrictions in six years' time and the City Council goes and closes Princes Street to all buses this very afternoon.

Apparently this is because characters such as Beyonce Knowles, Justin Timberlake, Dido, Christina Aquilera, Kylie Minogue, Jennifer Lopez, Madonna and Minnie Driver are in town for tonight's MTV Europe Music Awards that are taking place in Leith. An overspill event is to be held in Princes Street Gardens.

All buses were diverted along George Street and I suspect that Labour has lost the little-old-lady vote, as regular customers were unable to get off outside Jenners for their afternoon tea.

Bring back Jimmy Shand, I say.

OK, Kylie can stay too.

Keep those buses rolling!

Edinburgh's latest transport row is about a proposal to reduce the number of buses in Princes Street:
Senior councillors believe "far too many" buses use Princes Street as a through route, and want to see many of them forced to turn back at either end of the road. It is felt the changes would make the area a much more pleasant shopping environment once trams start running in the capital.
This does seem to be a rather silly idea. Shoppers need the buses! I accept that it would only occur once the planned tram service gets going but Line 1 and Line 2 will serve very limited areas of the city compared with the bus network. We can see from the map that Princes Street is the key to the bus system in the city centre. These Lothian Bus routes pass through the street:
1 3 3A 4 8 10 11 12 15 15A 16 17 19 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 33 34 37 37A 41 42 44 44A 45 64 X26 X31 X37 X47 and all Night Buses
(More routes are operated by First Bus.)

People need to be able to travel easily to and through the city centre. Instead of restricting the number of buses on Princes Street why not get rid of the single-deckers? Perhaps we need to ban tourist buses in the rush hour. Turning buses around at the beginning of Princes Street is a nonsensical idea. Sometimes I think that politicians say things simply to justify their existence.

What do you believe in?

Why not take the World's Smallest Political Quiz? The analysis is far more useful than the usual "left and right" way of seeing things.

Wednesday, 5 November 2003

Give Glasgow positive help

Glasgow has come bottom in an exam league table. Many politicians want these tables to be scrapped. I think that's entirely wrong. Parents - and taxpayers - have the right to know this information. Listen to a typical politician:
A local Glasgow SNP councillor John Mason said he was glad league tables were being scrapped.

He said: "It is completely wrong that the tables judge on academic achievement alone and place Glasgow at the bottom. More money is needed to address unemployment and social work issues as without that you could still find Glasgow struggling."

Of course it's true that social conditions will affect school performance but that's no reason to censor educational information. Why not think about ways to positively help Glasgow? What the city most needs is a huge expansion of entrepreneurialism and for that Glasgow needs to get government off its back.

I was at a meeting of the Policy Institute on Tuesday. Business leaders and politicians from different parties recognised that Scotland's companies are over-taxed and over-regulated. That's why our economic performance is so dire. Why not scrap part or all of Scottish Enterprise and use the money to abolish business rates in Glasgow? A thriving economy will lead to better performance in schools.

Inefficiency in state education

I have just noticed that the Sunday Herald carried a letter from Andrew Duffin who is a regular contributor to Freedom and Whisky's comments.

Educational lunacy

In today's Daily Mail (no link) Allan Massie writes about choice in education:
"On the one hand, is the parents' right to choose the sort of education they want for their children. On the other, there is the assertion that such schools perpetuate the sectarian divisions in Scotland and so help breed intolerance"
The correct response to the claimed "right to choose" is to ask: "At whose expense?"

We have taxpayer-funded non-denominational schools, Catholic schools, Jewish schools and understandably Muslims now want their own schools. Why stop there? What about separate state schools for Methodists, Mormons and Jedi Knights?

I believe that in fifty years' time people will find it extraordinary that schools were once run by the government. It is already possible to give parents vouchers that would enable all children to be educated privately at no extra cost to the taxpayer. Once schools are fully privatised parents would of course be free to spend extra to send their children to all sorts of schools - at their own expense. In the meantime the state should not fund religiously divided schools. It is quite wrong that taxpayers be made to pay for the kind of nonsense that has been going on in Dalkeith.

It's blogday!

Today is BBC Scotland's Blogday. 16 bloggers across the country have been asked to take part in a Radio Scotland programme that will feature excerpts from the blogs. Here is a list of the blogs that are participating.

Treason and plot

There's a lot in this morning's news about firefighters and fireworks and bonfires.

Good Morning Scotland spent quite a lot of time covering the latest firefighters' dispute. It is of course November 5th but the BBC tells us that:

... bonfire night crews have stressed that emergency call-outs will not be affected.
Let's hope that's the case.

An editorial in The Scotsman considers the wider matter of the availability and use of fireworks:

For some time now, the use of fireworks has become detached from 5 November. Instead, it has degenerated into a common nuisance spread over the weeks before (and after) the annual celebration of the Gunpowder Plot.
The paper welcomes the forthcoming Fireworks Act and links Britain's freedom to legislate with the failure of the Gunpowder Plot.

Some of us believe that our liberties are again under threat. A really excellent analysis of Britain's current position has been written by Sean Gabb of the Libertarian Alliance.

Dr Gabb writes:

The real area of conflict is cultural. That is where the engines of destruction are now most concentrated. And this is a conflict in which there is no overall strategy of defence. There are local defences, and these sometimes succeed. But there is no strategy, nor even the realisation that one might be needed. The engines of destruction may be ranged against fox hunting, or unfashionable humour, or Remembrance Day commemorations, or the Churches, or the nuclear family, or received opinions about the past, or national independence, or the Monarchy, or standard English, or private motoring, or whatever else - but the object is always to delegitimise dissent where it cannot be made impossible.
Read the whole of Dr Gabb's article. As he says, the threat to our country is primarily cultural. It's time for a successful plot - this time in favour of liberty.

Who am I?

Some readers have been asking this rather strange question.

I was born in Annan and the family then moved to Stewarton where I started primary school. Next we spent a few years in Leeds after which came a move back to Ayrshire. I attended Prestwick High School and then Ayr Academy. My spare time was spent watching planes at Prestwick Airport. A few weeks after leaving school we moved to London where I lived until my wife and I moved to Edinburgh early last year. In London I qualified as a company secretary and eventually became finance director of an advertising agency. Later, I did a degree through the Open University. A more formal CV is on the website of the Libertarian Alliance:

David Farrer is Finance Director of the Libertarian Alliance. He has a BA (First Class Honours) in Modern History and Economics, is a qualified Chartered Secretary and a member of both the Institute of Directors and the Institute of Management. David provides business services through his company, Midlothian Management Ltd. As well as subscribing to the Institute of Economic Affairs and the David Hume Society, he is a member of the International Society for Individual Liberty through which he met his wife Pam who runs the California Hypnotherapy Center in Edinburgh. David is a Rothbardian natural-rights Libertarian with a particular interest in the politics of his native Scotland in which he lives. In the nineteen-eighties, he was candidate for the Hampstead constituency for the Campaign to Abolish the Greater London Council.
Sadly the Libertarian Alliance "job" is unpaid but you could help the cause by signing up for the LA Conference to be held in London later in the month.

Tuesday, 4 November 2003

Prosperity in Europe?

Here is yet another story about Scotland's poor business start-up rate:
The number of new business start-ups in Scotland has slumped in the first quarter of 2003 compared to figures for the previous year, prompting renewed concern over the health of the nation’s economy.
The leader of the opposition at Holyrood is rightly upset:
John Swinney, leader of the SNP, said: "These figures show conclusively the parlous state of the Scottish economy.
And he continues:
"For people to go into business they have to have confidence in the Scots economy and I’m afraid these figures give very little to be confident about."
Yes indeed: the business community needs to have confidence but what exactly is the SNP proposing?

From their website

The Euro would benefit the Scottish economy. The SNP has actively come out in favour of the Euro while Labour has equivocated on the issue, keeping people guessing about when a decision will be reached. This economic uncertainty further damages Scotland’s international competitiveness.

The SNP believes that, on balance, the European single currency offers substantial economic benefits to Scotland. The Euro should combine a lower interest rate and access to a wider market, without the risk of exchange rate uncertainty associated with sterling.

Of course we would still face exchange rate uncertainty if we were to join the Euro. Many imported raw materials are priced in dollars and the pound is currently keeping more in line with the dollar than is the Euro. I would recommend that Mr Swinney look here to find out why the Euro would not be good for Scotland. Adoption of the Euro would almost certainly lead to a common European financial and taxation regime under which control of our pension schemes would pass to Brussels. Does the SNP want to see French and German unemployment rates here? Mr Swinney may think that business success in Scotland requires independence but "Independence in Europe" is an oxymoron.

Truth in advertising

These proposals for the new Clyde bridge are interesting. The Glasgow riverfront could certainly do with considerable improvement. I do worry though that these drawings all portray the city on a spring-like day. Plans for new developments never show what they would look like on a wet, blustery October morning. And why do all the pedestrians seem to be smart twenty and thirty-somethings? Where are the all the shell-suited, Buckfast-swigging, Big Issue-selling people who we know would be there in real life?

Monday, 3 November 2003

What a delicious irony

The Edinburgh area of Craigmillar is being put forward as a 'a model for Eastern Europe' for urban regeneration schemes:
EU officials are looking at whether several of the groups tasked with regenerating one of Scotland’s most deprived communities could provide a blueprint for delivering services in similar areas on the Continent.
The only reason that Scottish housing schemes such as Craigmillar need so much "regeneration" - including the apparent wasting of £80 million - is that they were modelled on Communist Eastern Europe in the first place.

What to do about yobs

First Minister Jack McConnell has got into trouble over his get-tough plans for dealing with yobs:
Grahame Blair, head of social work for West Lothian, claimed the First Minister’s plans - which include the electronic tagging of wayward youngsters - would be a backward step.

He fears the tough attitude will further alienate youth and undermine efforts to improve behaviour, such as initiatives to encourage them to get involved in sport.

Why am I not surprised to read of the criticism coming from the social work "profession"?

Whilst punishment of criminals of all ages may be required in many cases the correct approach is to focus on restitution. "Yobs" who damage property should be made to compensate their victims to the fullest extent. Such restitution should be widely publicised. That's the way to make it clear that the government isn't "declaring war" on all young people but is teaching the importance of respecting property rights.

Saturday, 1 November 2003

From Friday 24th October

I took this photograph of Concorde as she was on approach to Edinburgh airport. The Pentland Hills are in the background.