Sunday, 25 February 2007

Glasgow visit

On the way back from the Boys' Toys Exhibition yesterday, I came across these characters outside Queen Street Station.

Were they

(a) On their way to the rugby?

(b) Selling the Big Issue?

(c) Banning the Bomb?

Alex Salmond
Originally uploaded by David Farrer.

Cardinal O'Brien
Originally uploaded by David Farrer.

Friday, 23 February 2007

A message from Bill Cunningham

He's the Labour candidate for the Edinburgh City Centre ward and I've just received a leaflet from him.

According to Bill:

Labour Helping Every Family
Like this:
Low and stable mortgage rates
But interest rates are being held artificially low and this will eventually lead to a financial crisis. Those who've paid off their mortgages and folk like pensioners relying on their savings are being ripped off. So much for "every" family.
Record rise in Child benefit for all
Not everyone has children. So much for "every" family.
A new child trust fund for the future.
I refer readers to my previous answer.
Longer and better maternity leave.
I refer readers to my previous answer. And of course Bill doesn't mention the inevitable job losses that will ensue.
Two weeks paternity leave for the working dads.
I refer readers to my previous answer.
The right to flexible working hours
Bill means whether your employer can afford it or not. Another job-destroying piece of nonsense.
For everyone in work, a national minimum wage
But not for those kept out of work by precisely the same minimum wage policy.

Wednesday, 21 February 2007

Jamie Stone - milk snatcher!

More from that report on MSP's expenses:
and Jamie Stone claimed 42p for a pint of milk.

Well, I got this one right

In the 2003 Holyrood election I gave my "list" vote to Margo MacDonald in recognition of her valiant work in monitoring the costs of the Holyrood building fiasco.

We learn today that MSP's expense claims for last year rose by 8% with top claimant being:

Rosemary Byrne, the former SSP MSP and now a Solidarity MSP. She charged £63,338.56.
Ms MacDonald, on the other hand, claimed less than any other member:
SOME MSPs seem to claim for everything they can. Margo MacDonald, the independent MSP for the Lothians, claims for almost nothing.

Of the £3,199.57 she charged the taxpayer last year, the vast majority - £2,120.63 - was for taxis to get her round Edinburgh.

Of the rest, £357.71 was spent on public meetings and £588 on office supplies. Her expenses have actually also gone down, by £267.38 on the year before, showing other MSPs what can be done.

The £588 on office supplies was used to send out just one end-of-term report to her constituents - despite fellow MSPs sending out several newsletters a year. She claimed nothing on newspapers, nor on refreshments or meals.

Monday, 19 February 2007

Interview with David Simpson

Last weekend I wrote (scroll down) about the Sunday Times article by David Simpson, formerly chief economic advisor to Standard Life. I am very pleased to present the answers given by David Simpson to ten questions on Scottish independence. These are essentially the same ten questions that were answered by Michael Fry (scroll down) back in October although the first two were altered slightly as they were originally asked in the context of Mr Fry's recent conversion to the independence cause.

1. Would you elaborate on why you are in favour of Scottish independence, in particular from your position as an economist?

I am in favour of independence primarily for non-economic reasons. If Scotland is really a nation then it should have all the characteristics of nationhood, notably self-government and representation in international organisations. However, I also believe that independence would have positive economic effects, for the reasons set out in my article in The Sunday Times (Scotland) of February 11th. Our rate of growth lags behind other European economies of similar size, and I think that this is in large part attributable to our culture of dependence.
2. Some who favour independence have rejected joining the SNP because their policies are perceived as being anti-liberal. Do you think that there is any likelihood of a radical realignment in Scottish politics? I’m thinking of some kind of merger between the “liberal” forces in the SNP and those Scottish Conservatives who are frustrated by the current state of their party. Might we even see a low-tax, small government party in Scotland while England dithers under Mr Cameron?
Just as it is within the power of the people of Scotland to decide whether they wish to have political independence or not, so it is up to those who wish it to bring about the re-alignment that you describe. My impression is that the disenchantment with conventional politics that seems to affect much of the contemporary Western world means that there may be scope for some quite radical realignments. These might include, as Mike Russell has suggested, movements to return some political power from elected representatives to the voters. The success of a political party in Scotland running on a “liberal” platform would probably depend on the perceived success or failure of existing arrangements for delivering public services.
3. Many English journalists, both in print and in the blogosphere, see Scotland as an economic basket case. It seems to me that the Scottish GDP per-capita isn’t too far from the UK or European average and that our problem is too much government spending and control rather than a fundamental weakness in our ability to produce. Do you agree?
I do not think we should pay too much attention to what English journalists write about Scotland. With one or two exceptions, they are usually not very well-informed. I agree with you that our businesses do not appear to suffer from an evident lack of capability to produce things that are in demand. I think the problem with Government in Scotland, (apart from the fact that the Executive lacks the power to promote economic growth in Scotland, and the Government in London lacks the will), is not that it spends too much money, but that it spends it very badly. What we need is not so much small government as good government.
4. Many of the aforementioned English journalists are now calling for Scottish independence. Do you think that they would be quite so keen should it become apparent that England/England and Wales/England, Wales plus NI would have a reduced status in the EU and the UN?

I doubt whether the rest of the UK would suffer a loss of stature in the EU and the UN as a result of the departure of Scotland. So far as I am aware, the departure of Ireland in 1922 was not perceived by anyone as a loss of English international stature. And I don’t think that England feels that its influence in FIFA is diminished by the fact of separate Scottish representation.
5. Sticking with Northern Ireland: In the event of Scottish independence, do you envisage the NI unionists moving towards a rapprochement with the Republic?
That is an interesting question. I think that here is already a slow but perceptible thawing of relations between the Northern Unionists and the Republic. For example, both agree to the existence of an electricity inter-connector between the Republic and the North, where electricity flows both ways at different times. (I am told that the southbound electricity is known as ‘Orange juice’, and the northbound as ‘Southern Comfort’.) But I think that resistance to the political integration of North and South is real, and doesn’t all come from the North.
6. To what extent are you concerned that prominent Scottish companies – the Royal Bank, Standard Life etc. – might flee southwards if independence looked likely? What could be done to counter any such plans?

I worked for Standard Life for thirteen years. I can’t think of any reason why the fact of independence would cause financial companies to move their head offices south. What would drive companies out of Scotland, financial and non-financial ones alike, would be an environment of taxes and regulation that is unfriendly to business. An independent Scottish Government would of necessity value its major companies, and would scarcely impose upon them the hostile regulatory environment that many of them now suffer at the hands of the Westminster Government.
7. I’m now thinking of my own situation. Like many born here I have English connections. My late father was English and one of my two sisters was born in England. Most of my adult life was spent in London. How can you reassure the many people like me who may be concerned about a splitting of family connections?
I don’t understand in what sense independence could possibly ‘split’ families? Most Irish people have close relatives in England. They are no more or less close to each other, whether Ireland is part of the UK or not. Nowadays, more and more people are choosing to migrate from one country to another. I have relatives in Canada to whom I am closer than I am to many of my relatives in Scotland. This has nothing to do with political boundaries.
8. I now turn to foreign affairs. Assuming the Scottish people wished to remain in the EU, would the Union accept us? Would the rest of the UK (perhaps just England & Wales) be deemed to be the continuing UK?
I am not a lawyer, but my understanding of the situation is that, upon becoming independent, Scotland would be deemed to be still part of the EU, as would the Rest of the UK.

9. What should happen to the nuclear weapons based on Clydeside? Should Scotland lease the site to England?

If an independent Scotland voted against having nuclear weapons on its soil, then I think it is unlikely that it would wish to lease bases for nuclear purposes to another country.
10. What should an independent Scotland do to alleviate poverty and welfare dependency in Glasgow and its surroundings?
The only way to alleviate poverty in Glasgow or anywhere else is to create jobs, and the only way to create sustainable jobs is to make the region concerned an attractive place in which to locate businesses.

SBR 19

The Scottish Blogging Roundup is, well, up!

Sunday, 18 February 2007

It's a bit different from London up here

I arrived at the Edinburgh branch of Borders this morning at 8.45 only to discover that they didn't open until 10.00

So I went for a short drive and took some photos for the other blog.

An Example:

Gifford 18th Feb 2007
Originally uploaded by David Farrer.

(UPDATE: Shock! Horror! I've noticed that my camera was still set on summer time. I was at Borders just after it opened.)

Friday, 16 February 2007

New links

Added today are:

Bob Dalrymple
Scots and Independent
Strike 13


Edinburgh City Council has a new, expensive headquarters. The staff aren't happy:
A LACK of space at the city council's £80 million headquarters means official meetings are being held in the staff restaurant, it was claimed today.

Union leaders are set to mount a campaign demanding action over a string of complaints by staff working in the flagship complex next to Waverley Station.

Officials have told the Evening News of growing discontent about everything from staff having to "hot-desk" rather than have their own workspace, and a lack of storage facilities.

Commenter number 13 understands what the problem is:
I dont know what all the fuss is about. Theres a story in the Dail Mail today about an IT Manager who quit her £30k a year Edinburgh Council job because she had nothing to do, then saw it re-advertised at the same rate. If they cut the headcount and saved my daughters generation the cost of their guaranteed final salary pensions there would be enough room to move in a small army. As for Parking spaces - the CHEEK!
More than 10% of Scottish employment is with local councils. Does anyone seriously doubt that some radical cutbacks must be made? Incidentally, I wonder what the prices are like in the staff restaurant that's situated right in the middle of Scotland's most expensive city.

Sunday, 11 February 2007

The Sunday Times is winding me up

Up here, we have a different edition:

Sunday Times
Originally uploaded by David Farrer.

Two weeks ago the Times website dropped its link to the Scottish edition (scroll down) although they suggested that the link would return soon.

In today's issue there was a very important article by one of Scotland's most prominent economists. David Simpson, formerly chief economic advisor to Standard Life, has come out in favour of independence. This is a major story. See here for details of Gordon Brown's recent "secret" meeting with top Scottish business leaders, including the Chairman of Standard Life. The agenda was independence.

But of course I can't link to the David Simpson's article because apart from sports the Times has cut Scotland out of its website (for the time being I presume). From the new sitemap I can get complementary medicine, gastro pubs and, bizarrely, New Zealand, but the future of the Union simply isn't newsworthy.

Sunday Times
Originally uploaded by David Farrer.

Sunday Times
Originally uploaded by David Farrer.

Imagine my surprise when I came across this advert for the new Times website on page 8 of today's Scottish paper.

Shouldn't it carry a warning? "Not valid in Scotland". This is exactly the sort of annoying thing that sends voters over to the SNP. Is Rupert Murdoch a secret Nat?

Sunday Times
Originally uploaded by David Farrer.

"Key" workers

They're to get new homes:
Under a deal which requires developers to offer affordable housing as part of their projects, 36 flats have been acquired by Live Smart@Home
Two definitions:
Key Worker - someone who works for the state.

Non-Key Worker - someone whose taxes pay for the key workers.

Friday, 9 February 2007

Why some of us are still Unionists

There's going to a lot more of this and this over the next few weeks:
A CENTRAL plank of the SNP's case for independence - that Scotland has a healthy budget surplus - is "fundamentally flawed", the country's leading public finance expert says today.

Professor Arthur Midwinter says that the nationalists' claims, made in their "Scotland in Surplus" document, are based on £4.5 billion of "dubious assumptions and unexplained assertions".

And there'll be more replies like this:
The Scotsman is really pushing the New Labour propaganda. Same garbage in two different articles. So when are they going to allow the SNP the same amount of space to reply to these lies and distortions?
Here are some reasons why I'm still a unionist, albeit a federalist one:
(1) I worry about Scotland's large financial industry. Most customers are in England and at the first real whiff of independence English competitors will be warning folk about the wisdom of keeping their money in a country that appears to be addicted to socialism. On the other hand, the tourist industry could well benefit from independence.

(2) It seems highly likely that Scotland's first few governments would be dominated by the numptariat with all of the financial consequences that would inevitably follow. But what about Ireland, we are asked. It took the Irish some fifty years after independence to realise that a low business tax regime was the key to prosperity. I don't think it would take us quite as long to get the message - (a) because the world is much more knowledgeable nowadays about which policies work, and (b) because predominantly urbanised Scotland was historically much wealthier than predominantly rural Ireland and people here would demand sound policies rather quickly. But it would still take a time.

(3) Anyone knowing history can only be impressed by the overwhelmingly positive things that have come out of the UK. I'm not convinced that the Union's time is up.

(4) Despite what some preach, many of us are both Scottish and British. Like me. My late father was English but spent a lot of his life in Scotland. My mother is Scottish but has lived in England since the 1960's. One of my sisters was born in Scotland, the other in England. I was born here, then moved to England, then back here again, then to England once more, and am now back in Scotland. I would find it distinctly upsetting to have a different nationality from others in the family and the idea that London or the Lake District could become "foreign" is bizarre in the extreme.

Over to my readers...

Wednesday, 7 February 2007

Fake e-mails

This morning I received an e-mail from the computer department of a prominent Scottish organisation.

The heading was:

Non Delivery Report - Re: BBC E-mail: Rapist asylum seeker due damages
The e-mail went on to say:
An e-mail message that you sent has been blocked by MIMEsweeper.

The mail message noted above contained a word or expression that is currently barred from transmission and is contrary to the security policy at (name of organisation).

I shall be contacting the organisation this morning to let them know that I didn't send them (or the BBC) that e-mail or indeed any other.

Other Scottish bloggers have been targeted in this way before. Unfortunately, it's extremely simple to send out e-mails purporting to come from others. I wouldn't be in the least surprised to hear that I'm not the only victim of this latest outbreak of scamming.

Monday, 5 February 2007

London still dominates

Way back in 2002 I wrote this:
The UK is probably the most centralised of all modern countries. Even after devolution, 87% of our taxes are levied at the national level. In the US it's 18%. In the rest of Europe taxes are levied roughly half by the national governments and half locally. Where the taxes are collected goes economic and political power. I remember reading some years ago that Washington DC had the highest per-capita wages in the US and that most of them were dependent in some way on the federal government. That's in a country levying a mere 18% of taxation at the centre.

A very large part of London's economy is there precisely because it is the capital city of a country whose government spends some 40% of our GDP and whose London-resident ministers channel almost all of that expenditure through the London-based civil service. This in turn means that London hosts the national press (English, not British actually), the BBC, commercial TV, media-associated industries like advertising and PR, the political parties, almost all lobbyists, charities, trades unions and professional organisations. This centralisation of decision makers and influencers in turn makes London the natural location for the head offices of companies whose operations are spread throughout Britain. All of this is why the South-east dominates our economy and why it is impossible to solve the imbalances in housing and transport.

If we want to see a more economically balanced Britain we can either reduce government expenditure to, say, 10% of GDP, or we can spread government more evenly throughout the country. I support the first option. I suspect that neither will be implemented.

The only bit that needs changing after four years is that government now spends more than 40% of our GDP and the consequences are presumably worse.

Readers may remember that I've done this analysis before. It shows the number of jobs per region in the current journal of a UK-wide professional body. These vacancies are almost all in the private sector:

London 52
Southeast 11
East 1
Southwest 2
West Midlands 4
East Midlands 0
Wales 0
Yorkshire 1
Northwest 2
Northeast 0
Scotland 1
Northern Ireland 0

Total 74

So, 70% of the UK jobs are in London and 85% are in London plus the Southeast.

There may be a "Scottish Raj" but the UK still has a very bottom heavy economy. Needless to say, I still think that the answer is to eliminate almost all of the state's activities.

(UPDATE: a commentator writes:

is there not, though, a link between your figures here and the population density of the areas. england makes up near 90% of the uk's population with around 75% of that being south of the midlands area. it's no surprise that the jobs are where the people are..

I've done a further analysis based on the 2001 census:
London: population share 12.2%; job share 70.3%
Southeast population share 13.6%; job share 14.9%
East: population share 9.2%; job share 1.4%
Southwest: population share 8.4%; job share 2.7%
West Midlands: population share 9%; job share 5.4%
East Midlands: population share 7.1%; job share NIL
Wales: population share 4.9%; job share NIL
Yorkshire: population share 8.4%; job share 1.3%
Northwest: population share 11.4%; job share 2.7%
Northeast: population share 4.3%; job share NIL
Scotland: population share 8.6%; job share 1.3%
Northern Ireland: population share 2.9%; job share NIL)

Isn't Murdoch a Scottish name?

Dizzy writes about the new Times website:
They've started using a sickly green colour for some of the text, and someone has decided to hard code the width of the site in pixels rather than allow it to resize gracefully around the web browser.
Last weekend I noticed that the difficult-to-find Sunday Times index for Scotland had disappeared. (The edition we get up here has lots of Scottish news and commentary that isn't in the English version.)

I sent this e-mail to the Sunday Times:

The "Scotland" section of your website seems to have disappeared from its usual location this week. Where can I find it?
Here's the reply:
I apologise for the omission of Scottish editions this week and for the forthcoming couple of weeks. I can reassure you that no specific editorial decision has been taken to drop them: it is for purely technical reasons surrounding ongoing work that is happening on our site. They should return soon.
Perhaps I'll get used to the new web design, but I certainly hope that the Scottish part of it returns quickly. Of course it's up to the Times to decide which bits of their site to remove (temporarily?) during their redesign but I wouldn't mind betting that someone in London who's never been north of the M25 thought that nobody up here would notice. I have and I'm watching. For the record, I do buy the paper as well.

UK no more

I see UKIP is now to be IP:
The UK Independence Party is today preparing to change its name as part of a re-branding exercise designed to woo large numbers of Conservatives disaffected with David Cameron.

As part of an assault on the Tories, the ruling executive of the anti-Brussels party is expected to approve plans to promote itself as the Independence Party for the local elections on May 3.

Is there more to this than meets the eye? Perhaps they're planning to become an English Independence Party.

(Incidentally, being anti-rule from Brussels doesn't necessarily make one anti-Brussels.)

Sunday, 4 February 2007

Bavarian money

Unfortunately, there's no direct link to this article in the current issue of Money Week:
The colourful notes of the "Chiemgauer", the unofficial local currency, are now accepted by 550 firms across the region, and some banks even accept Chiemgauer debit cards.

The currency, founded by a teacher, Christian Gelleri, in 2003, is one of 15 regional currencies to have emerged in Germany since the first Euros were printed five years ago.

Bavaria's long history of independence before the creation of modern Germany means many of its 500,000 inhabitants (surely some mistake?) see the Euro as a "distant plaything of the technocrats". (no mistake)

Over to you SNP!

Saturday, 3 February 2007

Testing New Blogger

Merry Christmas Originally uploaded by David Farrer.


If you can read this, I've migrated to the new Blogger.


I've removed about 20 dead links from my blogroll. New ones will be added. The first is Clairwil.