Monday, 31 January 2005

Tory in bed with the SNP (allegedly)!

There's nothing like a good (alleged) political scandal to start the week:
DAVID Davidson, the Tories’ health spokesman, was fighting for his political career last night after he was forced to deny allegations of binge drinking and having an affair with an SNP MSP.
In a sensible world this sort of thing would be a matter for Mr Davidson and his family as this statement suggests:
A spokesman for the Conservative Party would not comment on the relationship between Mr Davidson and Ms Grahame, insisting it was "a private matter".
Ah, but we don't live in a sensible world:
But David McLetchie, the Scottish Conservative leader, was drawn into the row when it emerged that Mr Davidson had spoken out about the dangers of binge drinking in his capacity as health spokesman.
I would put it differently: Mr McLetchie was drawn into the row when he appointed a "health spokesman" in the first place. If there's any point in having a Tory party it's to argue on principle for a small state. After all, it's not as if we can expect the Liberals to revert to that historical role. So Mr McLetchie, just don't have a "health spokesman". All of your MSPs should be proclaiming that health (like education) should be a matter for individuals and not politicians.

Sunday, 30 January 2005

Not Scotland, but close

I've posted some more photographs over on Scottish Clouds. Although I expect most photographs on the site will be taken in Scotland there will be some exceptions. This week's selection was taken last summer on my first visit to Norway.

If you click on the photos you can access some technical information, at least for the ones taken with my Canon A80. The others were photographed with a Nikon F80 film camera and scanned at the time of processing.

Scotland discovers blogging

Probably for the first time the Scottish parliament has heard about blogs and they didn't like what they were being told:
A forensic psychologist spoke about the dangers of online journals, or blogs, and pictures posted directly online.

Rachel O'Connell said adults could use weblogs to learn about children.

I would have thought that a blog is just about the last means of communication that paedophiles would utilise: the whole point of blogs is that they are public and encourage open discussion with readers. Not that politicians won't jump at any opportunity to control blogs as has been noted over on Samizdata:
I refuse to even attempt a rebuttal of this ludicrous and obviously desperate smear, preferring instead to let it stand naked in all its ignominy. Besides, it will not be the last. Blogging has clearly begun to make an impression on the minds of the political classes and they fear it.

The blogosphere has now landed in Britain.

Sadly our national newspapers haven't quite got the point of blogs either. The Sunday Herald purports to have joined the blogosphere but what a hash of it they have made. The last post on this so-called blog was over two months ago. Ten of the twelve links are to the paper's own pages and one of the others is to the ideologically identical BBC. No one seems to have thought of adding a comments facility. There is no sitemeter. All in all, a pretty poor effort. If the massed ranks of MSPs think that the Herald's blog is typical then perhaps we real bloggers can relax for a wee bit more before big brother comes knocking.

Saturday, 29 January 2005

The coming chaos

I'm not looking forward to these visitors although they'll no doubt produce plenty of photo opportunities:
PARTS of central Edinburgh will be turned into virtual no-go areas in the biggest police operation ever mounted in Scotland when world leaders gather for the G8 summit in July, it emerged yesterday. The police are expected to lock down a campus around the Scottish Parliament and the Palace of Holyroodhouse to protect both buildings from the thousands of demonstrators who will descend on the capital for the summit.
I suppose we should find it mildly amusing to read that the presence of "militant anti-capitalist groups" will mean that a "cordon will be thrown around Holyroodhouse and the Scottish Parliament to protect both from demonstrators". The visiting protestors obviously know little about this country if they think that the Scottish Parliament has any connection with capitalism. We should be so lucky! Of course, the G8 participants themselves have little to do with capitalism either, except to restrict it and prevent it from benefiting the world's poor. If these people must meet in Scotland can't they go to Rockall?

Free the teachers

There's a bit of a row about a campaign to encourage London teachers to move to Scotland, and London isn't amused:
Jo Valentine, the chief executive of London First, said: "I think it’s unhelpful if bits of the UK compete with other parts to sort out their problems with teacher numbers and do so by seeking to point out the failings of others."
I don't see why it's wrong to point out the "benefits of living in Scotland instead of the south-east of England". What is wrong, "unhelpful" even, is that schools are owned by the state. Ms (or Mr?) Valentine should realise that London's economy is thriving because it is overwhelmingly capitalist. Teachers (and pupils) would benefit from being part of the capitalist world and that includes the possibility of being "poached" by rival employers.

Wednesday, 26 January 2005

Why not Glasgow?

Simon Jenkins is always worth reading even when he is maddeningly wrong. Today, he is spot-on:
The top universities should call the Government’s bluff and set their own fees
And which top university does he have in mind?
FOR GOODNESS’ sake, Oxford, stop complaining. Behave like a grown-up university and go independent.
No surprise there then: guess where Simon studied! On reading this piece my thoughts turned to Scotland where similar arguments have been made in favour of freeing some of our own universities. The names usually mentioned are St Andrews and Edinburgh, perhaps the "Oxbridges" of the north. But I have a better idea. Why not start with Glasgow?

Our largest city has an unemployment rate of thirty percent. Thanks a lot, Labour. Instead of seeing untold sums wasted on ludicrous "social inclusion" projects what Glasgow needs is a modern equivalent of the dredging of the Clyde that brought industry and prosperity to the city. The University should lead the way. The Weegies should get one over on Edinburgh (and Oxford) by setting up a world-class, independent university. That would benefit Glasgow far more than further endless welfare spending.

In defence of "pen-pushers"

We all want to know the answer to this question:
COUNCIL tax bills are rising faster than wages, faster than pensions and much faster than inflation. So what is going on and who is responsible?
The Scotsman has worked out what's going on:
The answer to the council tax conundrum is simple - the rise and rise of the public sector and, for this, both the councils and the Executive are to blame.
But what's the money being spent on? Again, we are given the answer:
Labour went into the elections of 1997, 1999, 2001 and 2003 promising more teachers, nurses, doctors and police officers. The Executive has delivered on most of these promises but the new front-line workers have been accompanied by a corresponding, and untrumpeted, growth in administrators, bureaucrats and pen-pushers.
So what we need to do is to fire all those unnecessary "pen-pushers" and then, if the cash isn't to be given back to the taxpayers, at least redeploy it on those "front-line workers". Simple, isn't it? No, I don't think so.

First of all I've been around long enough to know that organisations that don't value the demeaningly-named "back-office" staff soon end up with systems that don't work, accounts that don't balance and, eventually, jobs that don't exist - even for the "front-office" staff. Of course there should be a proper evaluation of the work done by the "bureaucrats" and it may be desirable to outsource some of their functions but never forget that they are necessary.

There is another reason why I think that the Scotsman's explanation is far too simplistic. The sainted "teachers, nurses, doctors and police officers" are just as likely to be working inefficiently as the poor old bureaucrats. The reason is that they too are not working in a market environment. Stripping out the back-office will not magically make government services (sic) into paragons of efficiency. What we need to do is to return the cash to the taxpayer, let people purchase their own educational and medical services, and yes, perhaps even their need for policing. Only then will we get our money's worth and find out just how many people are required in both the back and the front offices.

Monday, 24 January 2005

The Forsyth Plan

It may surprise readers to learn that I have always favoured devolution. Of course much of Scottish public life has always been "devolved" - administratively. Our separate legal and education systems and many other government functions had their headquarters here in Edinburgh even when they were subject to legislation made in London. It always seemed sensible that the law-making function should join the administrative one by moving north. That has now been accomplished.

None of the foregoing means that I approve of what the devolved legislature actually does. There's almost nothing that's its done that meets my approval.

One thing that the Scottish parliament should have done is to have rejected the Holyrood building that was imposed on us by the Westminster government. We could have saved millions by using the existing Royal High School site where everyone in Scotland had expected the parliament to be located.

There are other ways to save money as has been noted by Michael Forsyth:

Speaking last month in the House of Lords, Lord Forsyth stated: "As the Scottish Parliament sits only one and a half days a week on average, why cannot we get rid of all 129 [MSPs] altogether? "Why cannot we have Scottish MPs sitting in the Scottish Parliament on Mondays and Tuesdays? They could discuss English business at Westminster. On Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, they could come down and we could discuss UK business."
That's a very good idea and would end the nonsense of Scottish MPs legislating on English domestic affairs.

What I don't understand is this:

THE Scottish Tories suffered an embarrassing setback yesterday in their efforts to portray themselves as supporters of devolution when it emerged that one of the party’s most senior figures, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, had publicly called for the abolition of all MSPs.
Lord Forsyth's scheme is perfectly compatible with devolution so why should it "embarrass" the Tories?

A Labour minister says:

"We know the Tories are committed to savage cuts in Scotland but axing the Scottish Parliament is a cut too far."
But Forsyth isn't calling for the Scottish parliament to be "axed". He is pointing out the embarrassing truth that one lot of politicians is sufficient to carry out the duties of both MPs and MSPs. Ms Curran seems to think that the Edinburgh parliament is an end in itself whose purpose is to provide employment for her cronies. Not so. I say that we should adopt the Forsyth plan immediately.

Friday, 21 January 2005

The Bloggers's Earnest Cry And Prayer

I'll make this appeal now: If I ever win the lottery will readers please stop me from buying a football club?
The latest Pricewaterhouse-Coopers report on the state of Scottish Premier League football club finances makes grim reading. It paints a picture of a group of 12 businesses, each with a host of reasons for their respective bosses to lie awake at night.
And it could apparently get worse:
The picture becomes even gloomier if the two Old Firm clubs do defect to the Premiership in England, with the very real risk that the entire league would go into meltdown, such is the reliance on the extra revenue generated when Rangers and Celtic come to call.
But I wonder if that's true. Non-Glasgow clubs do indeed get a financial boost four times a year when the Old Firm come visiting. But what about the coach loads of fans who travel weekly from all parts of Scotland to every Rangers and Celtic game, home and away? If the big two played in the English premiership those travelling fans may well still go to Glasgow for Old Firm home games but might they not start to patronise their own local clubs when the big boys are down south? A competitive league of the remaining clubs would be more exiting to watch and perhaps profitable.

Now, about that investment...

Libertarian praises government expenditure! Sort of.

The great economist Ludwig von Mises opposed almost all government expenditure but reputedly made an exception for the Vienna Opera House. I proclaim this to be the Freedom and Whisky exception:
Efforts to secure the future of Robert Burns' birthplace have gained cross-party support at Holyrood. It comes as £50,000 has been awarded to the Burns National Heritage Park in Alloway, Ayrshire.
When we consider how many millions have been squandered by the Executive it does seem extraordinary that Burns Cottage has been allowed to fall into disrepair.

An appropriate long-term solution has been identified:

The Scottish National Party's Adam Ingram, who led a members' debate, feels the bard needs national protection and wants to see the management of an expanded Burns Centre handed to the National Trust.
I think that's right and would encourage readers to join the National Trust for Scotland. (Incidentally, you can join the NTS for £33 and still get to visit National Trust properties in England whereas if you join the English body it costs you £36! I learned this from my mother who lives in England but is Scottish.)

Let's grow

Neil Craig has another good letter in the Scotsman today.

Wednesday, 19 January 2005

The just society

In prisoners can get compensation for having to "slop out" shouldn't it become the norm for victims to sue criminals?

Even in Perth, the SNP preaches socialism

The latest publication from the Policy Institute explains why Scotland's economic prosperity depends on creating an entrepreneurial society, not on ensuring that virtually everyone works for the state. The SNP claims that independence would make us as wealthy as our Irish neighbours. That would be nice but there is another factor to consider. In Ireland 9.1% of working adults are entrepreneurs; in Scotland it's 4.6%. 47% of Irish workers know an entrepreneur personally; in Scotland the corresponding number is 21%. There's something other than national independence going on here I would think. That's why I worry when I read this sort of thing from a prominent Nationalist MSP:
“I was extremely disappointed when the Government slipped announcement just before Christmas that it was considering breaking DARA up and placing it in the private sector.

“Now the Tories seem intent on getting in on the act.

“In a last desperate throw of the dice, the Conservatives are playing politics with the future of DARA with their announcement that they plan to privatise the agency.

“The Conservatives are a busted flush in Perthshire and across the rest of Scotland. It is little wonder that they are going nowhere fast with their latest plans.

“The excellent DARA workforce deserve better.”

Such comments are all too typical from politicians across Scotland: state ownership - good; private ownership - bad. We really need to get away from that mindset and start promoting privatisation of government jobs as the preferred option and, like our Irish friends, develop a national pride in our business people.

Monday, 17 January 2005

Canons to right of them ....

Not in Israel, it seems:
I was prevented from boarding an ElAl plane from Milano this morning because I was carrying a pro Canon digital camera, the 1Ds. Apparently, they thought it might pose some kind of a security threat.
I could make a smart-ass comment about the advantage of using Nikons but apparently they didn't like his Apple either.

Sunday, 16 January 2005

And now for something completely different

Goodness me. I've started another blog!

Another example of the seen and the not seen

The Scottish Executive is considering the introduction of an income-based fine system. A similar scheme is planned for England:
Controversial plans for a radical overhaul of the justice system are understood to include levying fines according to the offender’s ability to pay.
But note the seamless switch from "ability to pay" to "highly paid people". The article - no doubt reflecting political thinking (sic) - doesn't seem to comprehend the difference between income and wealth. Consider the following examples:

Mr A earns £25,000 pa as does his neighbour Mr B. Both get caught speeding, but what we don't see is that Mr A has £100,000 in his savings account while Mr B owes ten grand on his credit card. Is it "fair" that they both get fined, let's say, £250, being 1% of income?
Next:
Ms C and Ms D both earn £30,000. What we don't see is that Ms C has just inherited £500,000 and she is about to marry her millionaire boss. Meanwhile, the balance sheet of Ms D's business shows a net worth of £500,000 but she has just lost her largest customer. Should they both get the same fines for identical offences?
Next:
Mr E's salary is £20,000 pa. His friend F is unemployed but what we don't see is that he keeps his recent £10,000,000 lottery winnings under the bed because he doesn't trust banks and therefore has no income. Would a larger fine for E be "fair"?
We could go on and on down this road. Londoners on £40,000 have far less disposable income than a similarly paid person living in Lochgelly. Fine those Fifers, I say! Shouldn't "public servants" be liable for huge fines in recognition of their gold-plated pension rights? Indeed, why not issue "negative fines" to offenders whose pension fund has just gone bust because of Gordon Brown's tax-credit raid? I mean, it's only fair, isn't it?

Another one starts to blog!

Welcome to the newest Scottish blog. It's from our very own Stuart Dickson.

Another one bites the dust

Just a few months before a likely General Election a little-known Tory MP has defected to Labour:
And according to Jackson, the Tories have “dangerous” views on Europe, “incoherent” policies on public services and had “wobbled” on Iraq.
Mr Jackson is correct. The Tories do have "dangerous" views on Europe: They refuse to commit to leaving the EU if it insists - as it does - on abolishing Britain. The Conservatives are “incoherent” on the so-called public services: Despite all the damning evidence why hasn't the opposition called for a massive culling of the welfare state? Yes, the Tories have "wobbled" on Iraq: I was beginning to think that they were being advised by this guy.

I wonder what the implications of the self-destruction of the Conservative party are for Scotland. Some Scottish Tories have argued for a party that would be independent from the one in London. Supposedly such a party would benefit from no longer being seen as a branch office of an essentially English outfit. So far the "Unionist" tradition has prevailed, but what would happen if the Tories had a catastrophic General Election result in England? Indeed, we may well see the Scottish Conservatives improving their position at Westminster. At Holyrood they face five obviously leftist opponents and extensive news coverage makes that very clear to the Scottish voter. Down in England Blair has conned millions of people into thinking that he is an unthreatening, middle-of-the-road character who is almost a Tory. Nobody up here could possibly think that the Labour party is somehow the heir to Margaret Thatcher.

Perhaps, then, the Scottish Conservatives have much less to worry about than do their southern colleagues. A defeated and demoralised English Tory rump will not be a pretty sight. Come mid-May will we see the Scottish Tories declaring their own independence?

Thursday, 13 January 2005

Look in your own backyard

Scottish local government seems to be remarkably inefficient in matters financial:
LOCAL authorities came under fire yesterday after new figures showed that £600 million in council tax remains uncollected since 1996.
Most of those local authorities are dominated by the Labour party. Note this:
And Tom McCabe, the finance minister, demanded improvement and urged those authorities with lower collection levels to seek advice from some of the better performing councils.
But Mr McCabe is himself a member of the party that is so lax at collecting Council taxes. I wonder how many of the defaulters in Glasgow are employed by the City Council. Quite a few I would think. Shouldn't the City payroll department be able to perform a simple bookkeeping adjustment and stop exploiting those of us who do pay taxes on time?

Monday, 10 January 2005

Me too!

Thanks to Dodgeblogium for another of those quizzes that you just can't help doing. I wonder how many other bloggers are like this:

Your Dominant Intelligence is Linguistic Intelligence
You are excellent with words and language. You explain yourself well. An elegant speaker, you can converse well with anyone on the fly. You are also good at remembering information and convicing someone of your point of view. A master of creative phrasing and unique words, you enjoy expanding your vocabulary. You would make a fantastic poet, journalist, writer, teacher, lawyer, politician, or translator.

Sunday, 9 January 2005

Out in the sticks

Working in the centre of Edinburgh is delightful. We have views like this:

And a wealth of cultural attractions:

I have absolutely no desire to work in one of those purpose-built, out-of-town office developments. But I must give some credit to the Royal Bank for retaining its head office in Edinburgh, even if it's new location is a tad too rural for my liking. Fortunately the Royal's project has been managed just a little bit better than another Edinburgh construction job:

Gogarburn, designed by Scottish architects Michael Laird and London firm RHWL, is certainly the biggest development in Scotland since the parliament project in Holyrood. But unlike the parliament, it will be delivered on budget and ahead of time. More than 84 acres - the equivalent of 50 football pitches - have been landscaped and will provide a tranquil backdrop to 1 million sq ft of offices arranged in a series of buildings that will provide a base for a company with ambitions to grow beyond its status as the world’s sixth-biggest bank.
This story does make me wonder why anyone trusts politicians to make endless rules for the governance of financial institutions. So well done the Royal, but I can't help thinking that an on-site replica of the Oxford Bar would do more for staff morale than a "hairdresser, supermarket, chemist, florist and coffee shop."

Saturday, 8 January 2005

Extraordinary information from south of the border

No, it's not England I'm talking about. Try Mexico:

Many (but not all) libertarians favour freedom to immigrate and emigrate but I do find it rather odd for the Mexican government to be giving out this sort of information.

Friday, 7 January 2005

Warkgate

The row over the infamous Christmas visit continues:
Story in full KIRSTY Wark’s 18 years as the presenter of General Election coverage in Scotland appeared to be at an end last night after senior BBC insiders said she had made a "huge mistake" by going on holiday with Jack McConnell, the First Minister.
Ms Wark is certainly close to the powers that be here in Scotland:
She was a close family friend of the late first minister Donald Dewar and even shared a garden with him when they were neighbours.

It was Mr Dewar who appointed her to the panel to choose the design of the Scottish Parliament. She was impressed by Enric Miralles - the eventual winner - and they were said to have become close friends.

Amid mounting claims of "cronyism", it was Ms Wark’s television company, Wark Clements - set up in 1990 with her husband Alan Clements - which was chosen to make a documentary about the building of Holyrood.

It now seems extraordinarily unlikely that Kirsty Wark will be able to present the Scottish coverage of the next general election. Understandably, opposition parties have been up in arms over Warkgate, but I would ask the Tories and SNP this: If Ms Wark does present the BBC's election show will the opposition refuse to appear? That's exactly what they should be saying. How could the BBC have an election night programme with only Labour and their LibDem sidekicks? (Actually, of course, that wouldn't be too unusual, would it?)

So let's see some fireworks from the opposition. Tell the Beeb: "It's Kirsty or us." Better still; why not advocate the immediate privatisation of the BBC? As a private broadcaster, with numerous competitors, presenters would be free to holiday with whom they pleased.

Tuesday, 4 January 2005

Numerology

Normally I would agree with Stephen Pollard rather than Gavin Esler, but on this I'm with Gavin.

Stephen writes:

The papers have been full over the past few days of stories of “chaos” in shops as retailers introduce new “chip and PIN” debit and credit cards. To use them, we have to remember a four-digit PIN and then — my brain is exhausted at the mental gymnastics even thinking about it — tap the number into a keypad. Oh, the stress! Oh, the anguish! Oh, the sheer difficulty of it all!
Whereas Gavin is more sympathetic with the numerically challenged:
How many PIN numbers do you have to remember and can’t? I think I have four PINS plus a BBC staff number which I can never remember, plus a National Insurance number which I keep having to look up.
I applied for my first card way back in the 'seventies and can recall taking a young lady out for dinner who was most impressed when I paid with my Barclaycard because she'd never seen such a thing before. Later I was sent an Access Card by the Clydesdale Bank with whom I have my current account. Does my Barclaycard (now VISA) have a PIN number? I haven't a clue. Maybe they sent me one years ago but I've never had cause to use it.

The Access Card (now MasterCard) does have a PIN number that I have to remember on the odd occasion when I need to get cash from a machine abroad. It has caused Euros to spew forth from a device in Bordeaux, produced Kronen in Bergen, not to mention Dollars in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. And why was I in Chippewa Falls you may ask. For the Leinies of course. (Incidentally, next time you're sitting in the bar at the southern corner of Minneapolis St Paul Airport waiting for the Icelandair flight to Glasgow you can demonstrate your knowledge of Leinies to transiting Texans and get yourself a free bevvy!)

The point of all this is that it's unreasonable for the banks to introduce a PIN based system - especially at this time of the year - without making sure that customers are told what's going on. I don't think that Stephen's idea of using your birthday for your PIN number is all that sound. These days we are surely more aware of the need for security and in this household we shred everything except our copy of the Scotsman and the menu from the local Indian takeaway. Private companies are far more customer-friendly than state organisations, but they still need to pay more attention to the realities of the marketplace. Next time there's a big change like this, make sure that everyone knows in plenty of time.

Big Mac

We all know that Macs are less prone to virus attacks and work in ways that don't require doctoral degrees in geekology. Now there's another advantage:
THE billionaire co-founder of the computer giant Apple is offering one of his homes for free to anyone who can afford to dismantle the 35-room mansion and remove it from his San Francisco estate.
Perhaps I'll install it on the top of Arthur's Seat, unless Bill Gates makes me a better offer.

Monday, 3 January 2005

Privatisation saves lives

Imagine a Britain in which the lifeboat service was run by the government. No doubt it would be as effective as our state school system, as compassionate as the your local welfare office and as financially accountable as the NHS. Then let's imagine that a group of libertarians suggested privatising the lifeboats and have them run by a charity that offered no pay to the crews. All hell would break loose. We would be condemned as a bunch of hard-hearted capitalists. Politicians of all stripes and journalists in the legacy media would have a field day attacking us. But our lifeboats are privatised, thank goodness. That's why they are so effective, as I read here this morning:
In The 80 years since the Royal National Lifeboat Institution took over the Aberdeen lifeboat station on New Year's Day 1925, its volunteers have saved the lives of over 300 people.
The RNLI hasn't always operated the Aberdeen lifeboat:
The national charity took over the Aberdeen lifeboat station, which had been controlled by Aberdeen Harbour Commission, following the wrecking of the Imperial Prince at Belhelvie Sands in 1923, when the harbour-operated station was criticised for the state of the lifeboats and the lack of funds given for them.
I can't help wondering about the kind of improvements we'll see when we get round to privatising all unnecessary government functions.

Sunday, 2 January 2005

Jonathan Gullible

I was pleased to come across this excellent animated presentation of the libertarian philosophy. It is based on the wonderful Jonathan Gullible book by Ken Schoolland whom I heard speaking at the ISIL conference in France a few years ago. The book has been translated into 30 languages as can be seen on this impressive list. As well as the video, I can thoroughly recommend Ken's book. It will appeal to children of all ages, although it may be a bit challenging for politicians.

Saturday, 1 January 2005