Tuesday, 30 December 2003

Prisoners' Dilemma

You've got children. They're at a state school. You want to take the family on holiday, but all the best deals are outside the school holiday period. Increasingly people - no, not you of course - are breaking the "rules" and going away during term time. It can save you 40% off the holiday price, and it may soon get you a criminal record:
Parents in Scotland could be fined as much as £1,000 or be sent to prison for up to a month - or both - if they take their children on holiday during term time, it emerged yesterday.

The Scotsman has an editorial (the 2nd one on the link) about this today:

... in many modern jobs, holidays rarely coincide with traditional school terms (which are based on agricultural seasons). Perhaps the long-term solution is to review the pattern of school terms and make them more flexible.
The question is: Why do all the schools have the same holiday periods? It's not as if many Glasgow children rush off to bring in the harvest once school is out for the summer. Surely this is just another example of what happens when (almost) all the schools are run by the state. We don't need a "long-term solution" in the form of a "review"; we need immediate action. Once again we can see why schools should be privatised. With hundreds of schools owned by many different entities it would be inconceivable for them to ignore the market demand for varied school holiday times. The state is not your friend.

Pay for your own games

It's not often that I agree with SNP politicians, but Peter Wishart MP is absolutely correct on the question of London's Olympic bid:
Mr Wishart said: "I have no problem with London hosting the Olympic Games in 2012, indeed I would support it. But I am strongly opposed to the UK taxpayer underwriting the entire cost, regardless of what that cost may finally be - and particularly when there is a danger of the London bid soaking up Lottery funding from Scotland and elsewhere in the UK. If London wants the Olympics, London should take financial responsibility"

"We already have the example of the Millennium Dome - where Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the regions of England were expected to pay the price."

Mr Wishart also reminds us of something to which I have seen no reference in the London media, namely that the decision to construct the new Edinburgh Parliament building was taken at Westminster by the UK Government.
"However, when the old Scottish Office (i.e. the pre-devolution entity) decided on the Holyrood project, Scotland is expected to pick up the tab, despite the fact the decisions were taken under the authority of the Cabinet in London."
Scottish voters had always assumed that our new Parliament would meet in the already available Royal High School building on Calton Hill.

So yes, if London is mad enough to want to host the Olympic Games it should fund them itself.

New links

I have added a couple of new links from this site.

First there is Eursoc, a useful source of information about the Frankenreich.

Then I have added a link to One Hand Clapping, the website of the Reverend Donald Sensing, a Methodist minister in Tennessee and a former US Army artillery officer. I recommend reading this post on possible US responses to a terrorist nuclear attack.

Monday, 29 December 2003

Schools need shareholders, not "charters"

I read that the teachers' trade union wants a new charter for pupils:
The document proposed by the EIS would cover areas including equality, access to teachers and the right to be taught free from disruption by unruly pupils.

The union wants children to be at the centre of the decision-making process.

This sounds like more of the politically correct nonsense that we expect from unions. What on earth does "equality" mean in this context? And who's stopping children from having "access" to their teachers at the moment? No one, I suspect. Freedom from disruption, on the other hand, is a fine idea, but the only problem is that it's incompatible with the very politically correct climate that teachers have done so much to create. Schools need to be free to get rid of disruptive pupils. They also need to be free to set the curriculum and to get rid of bad staff. That means employing professional not unionised teachers. In other words we need to privatise the lot of them.

Friday, 26 December 2003

Some modest suggestions for membership of the Scottish Cabinet

Scotland has produced quite a few well-known entrepreneurs who are often on the news these days. There's Brian Soutar of Stagecoach, Sir Tom Farmer, founder of Kwik-Fit, and Tom Hunter now of the Entrepreneurial Exchange.

Our most outspoken businessman is surely Ivor Tiefenbrun of Linn Products

Tiefenbrun’s success has been hard won. Too hard won. "I’ve put my life into this company," he says. "But if I had the chance to do it again, I’d say no.

"In fact I think I’m going to write a book. I’ll call it Shafted: Being In Business In Scotland."

Tiefenbrun is an outspoken critic of a government and public "who don’t understand and don’t care" about the decline of British manufacturing.

So how "outspoken" is Mr Tiefenbrun?
"But business is tough. It’s like pushing water up a hill. We’ve got an ever increasing cost base, the corporate tax regime is iniquitous, and the planning system has crippled us for years. Then there’s about 40,000 pieces of f***ing legislation that have come in under this government, all 40,000 of which are a pain in the f***ing a***.
Furthermore:
"The thing is, we’ve paid millions of pounds in taxes over the years. And what has the government ever done to support industry? It’s p***ed the money away. They’re spending £40m to build a pedestrian bridge across the Clyde. They don’t even have a minister in Scotland specifically for industry, let alone manufacturing."
Having met Mr Tiefenbrun a couple of times I have to say that he's toned down his thoughts on politicians a little bit for this interview!

I don't really approve of there being a Minister for Industry, but Ivor's our man for the job if we must have one. I suspect that he would scrap those "40,000 pieces of f***ing legislation" by lunchtime on his first day in office and then retire.

While we're at it, let's bring Precious Ramotswe over from Botswana and put her in charge of the Justice Ministry.

Quote of the day

"It was all part of this terrible attack on people by those who had nothing better to do than to give advice on all sorts of subjects. These people, who wrote in newspapers and talked on the radio, were full of good ideas on how to make people better. They poked their noses into other people’s affairs, telling them to do this and to do that. They looked at what you were eating and told you it was bad for you; then they looked at the way you raised your children and said that was bad too. And to make matters worse, they often said that if you did not heed their warnings, you would die. In this way they made everybody so frightened of them that they felt they had to accept the advice."
... as spoken by Mma Precious Ramotswe in Tears of the Giraffe by Alexander McCall Smith.

Note this:

In an interview on the publisher's web site, Smith says he thinks the country of Botswana "particularly chimes with many of the values which Americans feel very strongly about -- respect for the rule of law and for individual freedom."
I had already read The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, McCall Smith's first book about Detective Ramotswe, and the theme of individual responsibility and personal freedom jumps out from almost every page. The heroine and her husband-to-be are both self-employed entrepreneurs with a deep respect for independence and a healthy distrust of politicians and government employees. Christmas has resulted in my now having the next four books in the series. I have little doubt that the libertarian theme running through McCall Smith's delightful books is one reason for their tremendous popularity.

Wednesday, 24 December 2003

Same old Labour

Professor Sir Donald Mackay has written an interesting analysis of Labour's economic policy - old and new:
One of the most influential economic tracts of the 1970s was entitled: Britain’s Economic Problem - Too Few Producers. Written by two Oxbridge economists, it argued that the UK’s poor economic performance was largely a consequence of a structural imbalance between the market and non-market sectors of the economy.
Prof Mackay thinks that Labour hasn't learnt the lesson of the 1970s. The same "structural imbalances" have returned.

The Labour government, thinks Prof Mackay,

... needs structural reform of public services to accompany increased funding, and a realisation that squeezing the market sector is no substitute for such reform. That simply compounds the underlying problem of how we can generate the additional resources to finance improved non-market services. Hence the borrowing spree on which the Chancellor is now embarked.

The experience recalls unhappier times. A friend summed it up neatly. Having listened to my lamentation, he remarked sagely: "New Labour - Same Problem."

Of course I think that only a tiny proportion of government activity can be justified - almost all of those "non-market services" should be, well, marketised. If the state is to continue to fund "public" services there is no earthly reason why it should also operate them. The running of schools and hospitals must be taken out of the hands of state employees if we are ever to see any improvement in Britain's education and health.

Another institution bent on self-destruction?

On Monday I wrote about the ban on a CD that mentioned Jesus. Readers will probably not be surprised by the angry comments in these letters in today's Scotsman. As Derrick McClure puts it:
This goes beyond mere ineptitude; it is one of the most crass, pathetic and shameful gestures ever reported of any public body in Scotland. The highest principle the clowns in the Scottish Executive and the hospital can think of is that of not giving offence.

Well, I am offended.

I suppose we could argue that the hapless hospital official who banned the CD was simply reflecting the values of his political paymasters, but what are we to make of a church advertising campaign that replaces Jesus with Santa Claus?
It's a traditional nativity scene with a difference. Mary and Joseph and the shepherds are all there in the stable - but the manger is occupied by a baby Santa Claus.

But one senior Scottish churchman is not amused that Santa has ousted Jesus from the crib.

The Rt Rev Michael Hare Duke, former Episcopalian Bishop of St Andrews, Dunkeld and Dunblane, says the advert - which his own church has backed - will confuse people rather than help them to understand the Christmas message.

He said: "They have replaced the baby, who is essentially a historical person, with the mythological figure of Santa Claus.

"It will confirm what lots of non-churchgoers think about Christmas - that it’s a happy children’s fairytale."

A culture or a religion that does not stand up for its own values is doomed.

Monday, 22 December 2003

The attack on Western culture continues

The latest unlikely battlefield is an Edinburgh hospital:
THE Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh yesterday confirmed it has banned the distribution of a charity Christmas CD because it mentions the baby Jesus.

More than 150 copies of the disc, featuring traditional and new festive songs, were donated to the hospital to help raise the spirits of children receiving care over the festive period.

But hospital managers refused to pass it on, saying it could offend those who were not of a Christian faith.

Except of course this battlefield is not unlikely at all, is it? Any institution that is in receipt of the Blair pound is fair game in the relentless battle against British traditions, a battle that is obviously more important than music for sick children.

Sensible people like the well-known Muslim leader Bashir Maan are concerned:

"If somebody doesn’t want to listen to this, they don’t have to. This is political correctness gone mad," he said. "It is going too far and it is going to be counterproductive."
With all due respect to Bashir Mann this type of "political correctness" is not mad at all when we consider its purpose. It is designed to destroy our belief in liberal values and to render us helpless against the onward march of the servile state. British people have traditionally kept quiet in the face of provocations - until a breaking point is reached. Then, we get very angry. Bashir Mann probably realises that minority groups may be unfairly blamed when the backlash against political correctness finally explodes, as it will. We should be clear that political correctness is a virus that has infected large numbers of self-hating members of the West's own thinking classes. That's where the sickness must be acknowledged, rooted out, and utterly defeated.

What next?

Now it looks as though the starting date for the construction of the Scottish Parliament building may have been faked:
The Holyrood project was hit by a fresh political scandal last night when it emerged that construction companies were told they had to fit in with Labour’s election timetable if they wanted to win the main building contract.

Sir Robert McAlpine, one of the companies in the running for the contract, was told to make sure work appeared to start on site before the 1999 election so Labour politicians could claim the credit during the campaign.

Of course the Conservative-supporting McAlpine company didn't get the contract despite being the lowest bidder.

It's becoming difficult to keep up with the endless revelations that are coming to light in the public enquiry into this fiasco. Here's an interesting list of observations from today's Scotsman

• The reinstatement of Bovis for the main construction contract.

Bovis had been dropped from the shortlist by a panel of professionals on cost ground, because the company’s tender was too high. Yet Bovis was brought back unexpectedly by Barbara Doig the project manager and the company went on to be awarded the multi-million pound contract.

No-one has adequately explained why this happened.

• The decision to allow Bovis to change its tender.

Bovis had demanded hundreds of thousands of pounds to provide a parent company guarantee, a condition which made its bid one of the most expensive. This demand was dropped at the final interview and the company was awarded the contract, changing the basis on which it was judged by the Scottish Office.

Again, no-one has adequately explained why this was allowed to happen.

• The apparent breaking of EU tendering rules by failing to debrief McAlpine.

EU tendering regulations require public bodies to offer a debrief to losing tenderers.

This was not done by the Scottish Office despite several requests from McAlpine.

• The selection of Enric Miralles as the lead architect without adequate insurance.

Firms entering the design competition had to provide evidence they could secure public indemnity insurance of £5 million. Mr Miralles failed to do so but still ended up winning the Holyrood contract.

The way things are going I wouldn't be too surprised to see some statue toppling by irate Scottish taxpayers.

Friday, 19 December 2003

Come back Jim Callaghan, all is forgiven

Well maybe not, but it is looking rather like the 1970s again:
The International Monetary Fund says the Chancellor’s gamble that tax revenues will rise enough to pay for an extra £34 billion in borrowing over five years could backfire.

It accuses him of being over confident that the growth will produce enough extra cash to put Britain’s finances back in the black.

It's just as well that the Conservative "opposition" sees what's wrong with the economy, isn't it? But what's this:
The attack came as the Tories claimed that thousands more key public sector workers will find themselves sucked into paying the top 40 per cent rate of tax in the next ten years and find themselves forced to pay for Mr Brown’s "wasted" spending.
There are two things to note here. First, as I have written before, public sector employees don't actually pay any tax at all - their income tax is merely a bookkeeping entry in the government's accounts. The net pay of state workers is extracted by taxes (forcibly) levied on those who work in the private sector. Second, just how many government employees are going to vote Conservative anyway? It is in the class interest of public sector workers to increase the state's exploitation of the productive private sector. Surely the hapless Mr Letwin should be speaking on behalf of overtaxed non-state workers if the Tories are going to get anywhere.

Merry Eurocentrically Imposed Midwinter Festival to you all!

A few weeks ago I wrote about how profit-seeking capitalists were defending Christmas - unlike Scottish politicians. Today Bill Jamieson is making the same point in the Scotsman:
This year, the Scottish Parliament, in what many will regard as its most oafish and ridiculous pronouncement yet, has banned traditional Christmas cards bearing the seriously provocative message "Merry Christmas and a Prosperous New Year".

A simple message of goodwill, you may think. Think again. This message has been dropped for fear that it might be offensive to people of other faiths. Officials ruled that the message must not appear on cards sent out by MSPs or Scottish Executive officials. The wording, they say, is not "socially inclusive".

Hang on a moment: what's with this "officials ruled" business? I suppose that it could be argued that it's OK for "officials" to impose regulations on cards sent by their junior staff, but what right do they have to tell elected politicians what to do? It looks likely that "officials" may be responsible for wasting hundreds of millions of pounds on the Scottish Parliament building project and now they have the nerve to make their own Christmas Midwinter card policy. In a spirit of goodwill I say: "String 'em up." And I don't mean the cards.

Wednesday, 17 December 2003

Congratulations...

... to these pilots who commemorated the 100th birthday of flying in an appropriate way:
The team set off at 0730 GMT from Prestwick Airport and recorded 100 take-offs and landings in continuous circuit flying to Islay.
Although I share their taste in whisky there's never any sadness in going to my old hometown of Prestwick!
Speaking during the marathon effort, Mr Mitchell joked: "Sadly it looks like we'll make it back to Prestwick. We were hoping to get stuck on Islay tonight and stay at the Ardbeg Distillery."
They should have picked up a few bottles while on Islay.

On the subject of aviation, I note that on Tuesday the Transport Secretary announced huge expansions at Britain's airports. This controversial decision hit the newspapers on Wednesday just as they were carrying aviation-friendly stories on the Wright Brothers' anniversary. A coincidence, of course. Or more New Labour news management?

Happy birthday

Today is the 100th anniversary of the first flight by a powered aircraft:
Aviation enthusiasts across the world are celebrating the centenary of the Wright brothers' first powered flight.

It is 100 years since Orville Wright took to the air in the 'Flyer' for a flight lasting 12 seconds that carried him just over 30 metres.

What would Orville and Wilbur have made of the changes since then?

Tuesday, 16 December 2003

And who'll pay for this?

In the previous post I called for public servants to be held responsible for their actions, or, indeed, non-actions.

The enquiry into the Scottish Parliament building fiasco is being conducted a few hundred yards from here. There has been a £360 million overspend (so far), not to mention the cost of the enquiry itself. A million here and a million there - soon we'll be talking real money. Can we expect anyone to be held personally liable? As in actually having to compensate the taxpayer in hard cash? Somehow I don't think so.

Here's what the First Minister says of the enquiry:

"The purpose of the investigation should be to produce a clear public record of events and a set of recommendations for future large-scale public construction projects. I envisage that the report of the investigation would be submitted to the appropriate Parliament Committee to allow further additional scrutiny at that stage.

"People in Scotland rightly expect answers to all of their questions about the way in which the cost to the public purse has escalated, and the decisions and actions which have contributed towards the position in which we now find ourselves."

"Clear public record", recommendations" and possibly even "additional scrutiny".

Here's my recommendation: Find out who screwed up and make them pay for it.

Does the left hand know what the right hand is doing?

Not when it's the government.

I feel sorry for this guy:

Michael Dewar, managing director of engineering firm Dewar Associates, has been fined for being a day late with VAT payments, despite being owed nearly £40,000 in government contracts.

HM Customs and Excise levied a £1,300 penalty after Dewar failed to pay his VAT bill on time. Separately, Glasgow’s publicly-funded Housing Association told him he will have to wait for £38,000 owed to him, because the body will be out of funds until next year.

I understand fully that Customs and Excise is run entirely separately from the Housing Association, but it's a bit much for politicians to make a fuss about late payments in industry when they are at least as guilty themselves.

Why was the Housing Association commissioning work while not having access to the funds necessary to pay its suppliers? The public "servants" responsible should be held personally liable for such errors just as would a private-sector businessman.

Monday, 15 December 2003

Scotland's finances

It's that question again: Is Scotland subsidised by England? According to the Scotsman, the answer is yes:
SCOTLAND is being subsidised by English taxpayers by a record £8 billion a year, according to a major new report published yesterday.

Some £39.4 billion was spent in Scotland in 2001-2, but the amount raised in taxes was just £31.4 billion - leaving a deficit of £8 billion.

Obviously Scotland is an economic basket case.

Well, maybe not. First of all these figures exclude the tax revenue from North Sea oil. Although I don't believe that oil should be taxed by the state, we live in a society that accepts such taxation. The North Sea is treated as a separate UK territory in the government's revenue accounts. The oil revenue is counted as "British" but not "Scottish", nor indeed "English". This is bizarre. The overwhelming majority of the oil lies in Scottish waters, no matter how the boundary is drawn. The only reason that these figures attract so much attention is because there is a possibility, however remote, that Scotland may at some time chose to become independent. Almost all of the oil tax revenue would then accrue to the Scottish government, assuming it's not pinched by Brussels of course. That would bring the deficit down to £3 billion.

But now let's look at the expenditure side. Spending on public "services" is £1,000 more per head in Scotland than in England. That's a £5 billion bonus for Scotland. But it doesn't do us much good, does it? Despite the additional spending, health services and education are attracting more criticism than in England.

We could cut our £8 billion deficit down to £3 billion by reducing per-capita expenditure to English levels or by counting the revenue from the oil off the Scottish coast. A £3 billion deficit is less than our proportionate share of the UK deficit recently announced by Gordon Brown. Cutting expenditure and reallocating oil revenue brings us into surplus at a time that the Chancellor is borrowing £37 billion for the UK as a whole.

In Scotland on Sunday Andrew Neil cleverly points out that Brown's accounting is somewhat suspect:

His figures look even worse when his Enron-style approach to the nation’s finances is taken into account. When you include all the borrowing Mr Brown has shoved off-budget on to public agencies like Network Rail and various private finance initiatives for public investment - all underwritten by government guarantee - then another £45bn or 4% of GDP is missing from the Chancellor’s accounts.

The bottom line is that, for all Mr Brown’s boasting, Britain’s national debt as a percentage of GDP is already over his precious 40% limit and fast rising to the high European levels he affects to abjure. If the Tories were not so innumerate and inadequate they might have been able to point this out on Wednesday but the response of the shadow chancellor, Oliver Letwin, had all the force of a wet noodle.

How that affects Scotland's balance sheet is not clear. Scotland currently produces 8.1% of Britain's GDP with 8.6% of the population - an underperformance of 6%. But the British figure includes London, which produces one of the highest per-capita GDP figures in Europe. The Scottish economy certainly needs improvement but I think that things aren't quite as bad as some have suggested. Let the Scottish parliament be responsible for all taxes raised in Scotland and then have a massive cut in wasteful state expenditure. Too much public expenditure has produced a dependency culture that we need to end. Scotland has the potential to prosper.

Friday, 12 December 2003

Globalisation in action

It looks like a quick visit to Glasgow is called for.

Indian whisky from the Amrut distillery has arrived in the city:

And they plan to sell their whisky in Scotland. Talk about coals to Newcastle. It's not so much Whisky Galore, more a case of Whisky Bangalore.

Just a few bottles of the stuff have arrived at the Pot Still, in Glasgow's city centre, where the owner Ken Storrie has held blind tastings for a few specially selected customers.

This seems fair enough. After all, Glasgow is the Curry Capital of the UK.

A sampler of the Indian whisky said:

it's far too strong, there's nothing subtle about it and it's far too sharp.
That's OK: sometimes I need a curry like that.

Farewell to the Glorious Twelfth

All those EU-loving SNP and LibDem politicians in the Scottish Highlands must now face a reality check:
Legislation due to come before the European Parliament in the new year would change the rules governing products of animal origin intended for human consumption. It would mean wild game would have to be certified as fit and healthy before being shot and then be inspected by a vet to ensure that no "abnormalities" occurred as a result of the hunting process.
Either thousands of highlanders will be retrained as travelling grouse inspectors or another major Scottish industry will be wiped out by our friends in Brussels. Guess which outcome is more likely.

Of course, the Tories aren't surprised by this, are they? Well, this is from Struan Stevenson, a Scottish "Conservative" MEP:

This proposed new legislation beggars belief and is clearly a step too far, given that pheasants and rabbits fetch little more than £1 when sold on to a butcher.
Actually, what "beggars belief" is that Mr Stevenson hasn't realised by now that this is just what most of us expect from the EU. Instead of spending another few thousand pounds of taxpayers' money on his next trip to Brussels I suggest that Mr Stevenson invest 45p on a copy of today's Scotsman and read the article by Bill Jamieson who discusses the ultimate EU threat:
In truth, no amount of red-lining or haggling over this problematic constitution is going to save us. At least the Conservatives have half grasped what is required. And that is not "renegotiation" of the 1972 European Communities Act. It is its total repeal.
Grasp the whole thing Mr Stevenson:

First they came for our fish. Now they come for our game. Next they'll come for our oil.

Thursday, 11 December 2003

Corresponding

Freedom and Whisky readers continue to be disproportionately represented in the letter columns of the Scotsman.

Good.

Today it's Andrew Duffin's turn.

It's that West Lothian Question again

The Tories want to restrict the rights of Scottish MPs by banning them from legislating on English matters:
The new Tory leader, Michael Howard, has branded it "a constitutional outrage" and suggested a "certification" system which would ban Scots MPs from voting on legislation which the Speaker had declared to be English-only.
Quite right too. And most Scots agree with this suggestion:
Most Scots think Scottish MPs at Westminster should be banned from voting on English-only issues, according to a new opinion poll.

... the new poll shows 51 per cent of those surveyed say Scottish MPs should not be allowed to vote on English matters.

I have been unable to locate the details of the poll but, if I remember correctly, there was a sizable "don't know" component thus giving a considerable lead to those calling for the restriction of Scottish MPs voting rights.

I fail to understand why the News's Ian Swanson rejects Mr Howard's proposal:

There is, of course, a simplistic attraction in saying English MPs should decide English issues.

But Mr Howard was not so keen to propose the same solution for Scotland in the days before devolution, when he was part of the last Tory government and his party was vastly outnumbered among Scottish MPs.

Instead, the Tories at that time stressed that Scotland was part of the United Kingdom and its laws were made by the UK parliament - the fact Scots MPs might vote overwhelmingly the opposite way on almost every occasion was irrelevant.

Devolution was instigated to correct the "democratic deficit" whereby Scotland's domestic laws were made by a Westminster Parliament dominated by a party that had been rejected in Scotland. It is now proper that the powers of Scotland's MPs be restricted to non-devolved matters and that they take a corresponding pay cut. Mr Swanson says that there:
... could be an English Grand Committee to discuss English-only matters or extending devolution south of the Border, so regional assemblies can take over responsibility for some of the key decisions for their areas.
But there's no sign that English people want regional assemblies and what is required is more than banning Scots MPs from discussing England-only matters - they shouldn't be voting on them either. Mr Howard's proposal seems to fit the bill admirably.

Wednesday, 10 December 2003

Now read this - if you can

Labour's worst crime in these parts has been the destruction of the Scottish education system:
ALMOST half of all pupils failed the national writing test this year at the completion of the curriculum for children aged five to 14.

An astonishing 49 per cent of second-year pupils were below the expected standard in the key skill as they prepared to embark on Standard Grade courses.

The news of serious literacy problems in Scotland follows this year’s English Higher results, which revealed that four in ten candidates failed the qualification. One in four Higher entrants scored less than 30 per cent

The education minister has the nerve to boast about these figures because they are better than last year!

We once led the world in education and it's no surprise to read that a business spokesman said:

the results were damaging to children’s prospects in life and to Scotland’s chances of forging a buoyant economy in the 21st century, when unskilled and low-skill jobs were departing overseas.
How is it that Scotland once had a highly admired national school system? Back in those days the political and academic establishments believed in excellence and didn't hate western culture and achievements. It was recognised that children differed in ability but the system allowed for that. Nowadays, excellence is "divisive", the values of the enlightenment - forged here in Scotland - are rejected in favour of an unworkable multiculturalism, and, as for children: All Must Have Prizes.

Scottish educators? Bah! Privatise the lot of them.

Flags and anthems

I can see that this proposal will cause a hell of a row:
IMMIGRANTS living in Scotland who want to become British citizens will have to swear an oath of allegiance before the Saltire, under government plans revealed yesterday.

The new citizenship ceremonies are to be tailored to reflect the part of the United Kingdom in which they are performed, with the Scottish flag and the anthem Flower of Scotland being given prominence north of the Border.

It is surely wrong for Flower of Scotland to be used on such occasions, and not only that it sounds best when accompanied by a large, live pipe band. There are some good arguments as to why Scotland should become an independent country and also good arguments in favour of the continuation of the United Kingdom. The fact is though that the people of Scotland have always voted for unionist parties and therefore our new countrymen are becoming citizens of the UK, not of Scotland. God Save the Queen is the appropriate anthem for these ceremonies. There is nothing wrong with the Saltire being displayed along with the Union Jack at citizenship ceremonies held in Scotland. Similar dual-flag arrangements would of course be appropriate in the other parts of the UK. Failure to get this right will lead to the sort of disagreements that I wrote about recently in connection with sporting events.

(From the Herald:

SCOTTISH councils could drop God Save the Queen and the Union flag from the government's proposed civic ceremonies for immigrants wishing to become British citizens. Instead, the Home Office suggested last night, Scottish local authorities might be able to use the Saltire and Flower of Scotland.)

Tuesday, 9 December 2003

Can't spell, won't spell

Oh dear. Here we go again:
EDINBURGH City Council has been left apologising again after a series of spelling errors appeared in the newsletter it sends to more than 200,000 city homes, only days after it was forced to reprint its official Christmas card because of misspellings.
It does seem extraordinary for Edinburgh City Council to be issuing a newsletter with so many place names in its territory misspelled. I am not surprised to read that blame is being passed on to the printers. Surely someone in the City Chambers should have proofread the paper before it went out. And note the comment of the councillor in charge of this fiasco:
He said: "It’s one of these things that are embarrassing, but amusing.

"An anorak from my own community council raised the matter with me."

To think that these councillors are in charge of educating most of Edinburgh’s children. Perhaps the “anorak” should take over the schools.

Monday, 8 December 2003

Vive la France

Or as Le Monde might put it: Vive la France libre. With thanks to the Mises Institute.

Wrong kind of rail company?

I had planned to mention this a few days ago but was reminded of it today when I read that train fares in Scotland may rise by as much as 6%

From the original article:

A MAJOR row over the spiralling cost of Scotland’s railways was brewing last night as ScotRail accused Network Rail’s "overblown" cost estimates and "excessive bureaucracy" of jeopardising future expansion.
It looks as though the train operating companies are being overcharged by Network Rail:
Mr Cotton (of ScotRail) will say that ScotRail has repeatedly had to rescue station improvements rather than let them "fall by the wayside on the basis of exorbitant cost estimates" provided by Network Rail.

Mr Cotton will point to work such as the replacement of automatic doors at Glasgow Queen Street, Dundee and Ayr stations being completed by ScotRail for £32,000 - less than half the £72,000 quote by Network Rail’s contractor. Platform lighting at Annan station in Dumfries and Galloway cost ScotRail £18,000 rather than the £55,000 estimate, and anti-trespass and vandalism work totalled £88,000 rather than £330,000.

I note that Network Rail says that: "Looking to apportion blame helps no-one." Nonsense. Apportioning blame is just what's needed. Why am I not surprised to note that the expensive Network Rail is a nationalised entity whilst it's the privately owned ScotRail that is able to improve our stations at reduced cost?

Saturday, 6 December 2003

Is Scotland "socialist"?

On Thursday I wrote about a recent survey published by Reform. This has attracted quite a few comments.

Geoff Matthews points out that the differences of opinion between Scottish and English people on the tax question were “small enough as to mean no difference”. I agree. What’s interesting though is that most political commentators see Scots as being considerably more socialist than people in England. This is not the first survey to challenge that belief.

Patrick Crozier sees a “gap in the market” for my views. I do my best, but the survey suggests that it’s the political and media establishment that needs re-educating rather than the electorate. That may prove somewhat difficult.

Neil Craig notes the Scots “tradition of financial stringency”. I think that Neil is quite right to draw attention to this in connection to the McLeish affair and indeed to the Scottish reaction to the Parliament building fiasco. As far as Glasgow’s latest £40 million boondoggle is concerned: Will the cheques bounce before the bridge does?

Yes, the underlying cause of Scottish “socialism” is probably a rejection of pretension rather than a love of statism as a quick glance at Burns may confirm.

Stuart Dickson says that Scotland does not have five and a half socialist parties but only one.

There’s not much point being a blogger if I can’t go over the top now and again! I am a libertarian, or “classical liberal”, and strange folk like myself believe that the only legitimate function of the state is that of protecting citizens against those who initiate force or fraud. That means eliminating perhaps ninety percent of government activity. On that basis perhaps I should have said 6 socialist parties! I do of course accept that there’s a world of difference between the SSP and the mainstream parties but I note that Scotland is now said to be the country with the largest state sector in the EU. Reducing taxation would therefore make us more European. On the constitutional question I am a British federalist. I think that defence should continue to be organised at the UK level, quite possibly with an increase in expenditure. The traditional local regiments should remain. Just about everything else should be devolved to the three nations and the province.

Gordon and David bring us back to the question of Scotland’s “socialists” and just how many there are. It’s the task of Scottish libertarians to demonstrate that liberty is in the interest of the vast majority of Scots, although maybe not those drawing a hundred grand in salary and expenses at our Parliament. It would give hope to the most deprived in our society, create more opportunity for all those youngsters who seek careers outwith Scotland and attract entrepreneurs to come here from other lands. A free and libertarian Scotland is the only one in which we could say “A Man’s a Man for A' That”.

Another F & W reader writes

This time it's to the Scotsman. Neil Craig writes about windmills and reactors.

An open letter to Her Majesty The Queen

This letter has been sent by F & W reader David Ellams:
Your Majesty,

I have seen a report in one of the weekend papers that you have received many appeals from British Subjects to veto the proposed EU constitution, and apparently your position is that it is up to your ministers to decide such matters.

Well, it that is your position, it is my duty to advise you that you are mistaken.

Just like your subjects, you are bound by the terms of Magna Carta, and the Bill of Rights (1689).

Magna Carta requires that the monarch guarantees the liberty of the subjects, while the Bill of Rights prevents their being handed over to the government of any foreign power.

The raison d’etre of the EU is the destruction of the nation states of Europe, and the creation of a single country that spreads from the Atlantic to the Urals.

No group in our society, however exalted its members might be, has any authority to ignore, amend or overturn Magna Carta or the Bill of Rights.

For that reason, should Parliament pass any bill which accepts the EU constitution as binding on the British people, you are legally and morally obliged to veto it.

The Royal Prerogative may not be used “innovatively”, i.e. against the interests of the British people. Should any minister or ministers use the Royal Prerogative to sign any treaty to enforce the EU constitution as binding on the British people, you are similarly legally and morally obliged to veto it.

You are now the only person in this country with the authority, and the power, to protect and preserve our constitution and our liberty. The survival of our country, your subjects, and your crown is now in your hands. Please preserve and defend them.

Yours sincerely,

David Ellams

Thursday, 4 December 2003

A Belgian mystery

Our friends in Brussels value Scottish banknotes higher than English ones! Fainting in Coyles wants to know why. It's a good question. I vaguely remember reading that Scots notes exchanged at a better rate in Zurich when North Sea oil was first discovered. That surely can't be the reason now, especially as the EU is probably going to pinch the oil anyway! Perhaps the Flemish bank worker was trying to make amends for the recent Scottish catastrophe at the nearby Amsterdam Stadium...
Fiscal responsibility

The Policy Institute has published Paying Our Way: Should Scotland Raise Its Own Taxes?

The conclusion:

Greater fiscal powers for Scotland are not only feasible but may be inevitable
Correct on both counts.

Scotland and taxation

We all know that Scots are inveterate lovers of big government and taxation, don't we? Let's look at Table 3 on a new survey published by the Reform think tank:
"I would be willing to pay more tax to increase spending on public services"
Percentage agreeing:
UK50% Scotland 57%

So the Scots do want more taxation than the average person in the UK, and by a margin of 7%.

But now look at this question:

"If the government reformed public services and cut waste it could make services better and reduce tax at the same time"
Percentage agreeing:
UK 78% Scotland 75%
Now Scots are only 3% less keen on reform than the UK sample.

How about this one:

"Public services need reform more than they need extra money"
Percentage agreeing:
UK 78% Scotland 76%
The gap's down to 2%.

Another one:

"In the modern world it is important for a country to keep taxes low to remain competitive"
Percentage agreeing:
UK 76% Scotland 77%
Now Scots want low taxes so as to be able to compete!

Next question:

"Taxes have gone up but services haven't improved much and there is a lot of waste"
Percentage agreeing:
UK 82% Scotland 84%
We're more doubtful about the "benefits" of increased spending than the average person in the UK.

Finally:

"If taxes are cut the economy will grow faster, which will mean higher living standards AND more money available for public service"
Percentage agreeing:
UK 62% Scotland 74%
So Scots are the supply-siders of Britain!

This is not what we have led to believe. In many respects Scots are more cynical about government spending than people in the UK as a whole. What we need is political leadership that acknowledges this fact. The question that needs answering is this: Why does the Scottish Parliament contain five and a half socialist parties?

Fewer links

I have noticed that links that I have made to the Glasgow Herald no longer work other than on the day of publication. It looks as though this has been the case since the Herald upgraded its website and started to charge £1.95 for access to backdated articles. In future therefore I shall not link directly to Herald articles but may copy small extracts under the “fair use” principle. This is a sad development. As an unreconstructed capitalist I do of course accept that the Herald has every right to operate its website in any way it chooses. I do think however that the paper is making a mistake. How many people are going to pay £1.95 to read a newspaper article?

The rival Scotsman has an excellent website with full access to backdated issues. I presume that the Edinburgh paper wants to attract as much attention as possible through the internet and I note that it carries advertisements on its individual news pages, not just on the homepage. The Scotsman has won an award as “Britain’s Best Daily Newspaper Website”.

It looks as if the Sunday Herald is not operating this new policy. Good. As far as the Herald itself is concerned I find it rather disconcerting to read that paid access to its backdated articles ("Scotland's national news archive") is “governed by and constructed in accordance with the laws of the State of Michigan”.

Tuesday, 2 December 2003

Dead Ringers

I was fascinated to read this story in the Daily Record:
A FAKE village has been built for the Queen's visit to Nigeria this week.

She will even meet BBC actors posing as locals in a market.

And real residents of the poor farming area will be kept hidden from her during the walkabout.

Well, well. I am pleased to announce that Freedom and Whisky has obtained a world exclusive. Someone has sent me copies of the plans for the forthcoming royal opening of Scotland's new parliament building.

To avoid any untoward embarrassment for Her Majesty, a group of performers has been hired to play the part of MSPs at the state opening of the Scottish Parliament.

Diminutive Edinburgh-born comedian Ronnie Corbett has graciously agreed to perform the role of First Minister, Jack McConnell.

Another son of Edinburgh, Rory Bremner, will take the place of Liberal Democrat leader and Minister for Enterprise, Jim Wallace. Bremner said: "If Jim can pretend to know about enterprise then surely I can pretend to be a politician."

Turning down the pleadings of the lady members of the Scottish Socialist Party that he perform as Tommy Sheridan, Sir Sean Connery, another Edinburgh local, has unsurprisingly agreed to fill the role of leader of the SNP. (John Swinney has recently been heard demanding that his fellow nationalists refer to him as "Sir Sean Swinney".)

In an unexpected development, the BBC's James Naughtie is to perform as David McLetchie, Conservative leader. Perhaps Jim is finally getting a wee bit fed up with New Labour.

For reasons that I have been unable to fathom, Newsnight presenter Kirsty Wark has been suddenly removed from this project. She had been expected to play the part of independent MSP Margo McDonald.

I have also discovered that changes have been made for the post-opening celebrations. These will now take the form of an extended pub-crawl of most of the Old Town's drinking establishments. The Duke of Edinburgh is reported to have said: "Bloody good news. Those clowns couldn't organise a piss-up even though they occupy the site of a former brewery."

Monday, 1 December 2003

Anthems: part 2

The other day I wrote about national anthems. Now, Allan Massie has joined in the debate and also finds himself in the unusual position of agreeing with Labour's Mike Watson. Mr Massie has this to say about the response of the "stupid party":
I said the Scottish Tory response was both ignorant and stupid. The stupidity is evident. The Tories defend the Union as a partnership between four nations. That partnership, since devolution, is taking a new form. If it is to survive, then the distinction between what is Scottish and what is British (a distinction now enshrined in the Scotland Act), what English and what British, should be made clear and unmistakable. That distinction is blurred when one of the constituent parts of the Union assumes an identity that properly belongs only to the United Kingdom; and this is what happens when England use the British national anthem as the anthem of England.
and:
The Tory stupidity rests in their apparent inability to see that Lord Watson is making a pro-British point
Absolutely correct. It is sad to have to note that unionists in Scotland are so often their own worst enemy. These questions of national identity matter a great deal. Back to Mr Massie:
Of course it is in itself a small thing, but it is symptomatic of a larger assumption: that there is no essential difference between the United Kingdom and England, no distinction to be made between being English and being British. That assumption may seem perfectly natural to the English so great is their preponderance, but it is a source of irritation to many people in the other countries of the Union.
If Scots ever chose to go down the road to independence it will largely be the result of the stupidity of British unionists.