Monday, 31 December 2007

Too many university students

That's according to the CBI:
THE drive to expand university education has produced a generation of poor-quality graduates that employers do not want to hire, the head of the country's leading business organisation has warned.

In a stinging criticism of both the UK and Scottish Governments, Richard Lambert, the director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, claimed many employers believe "more means less" in terms of increasing student numbers.

My gut reaction is to agree with Mr Lambert but how can we really tell? The only way we'd know for sure would be if all higher education were to be privatised and if students (or parents or sponsors) had to pay the full fees. Then find out soon enough if too many (or indeed too few) graduates were being produced.

At the moment the education system is a producer-run cartel with all that implies. Here's a good example from the school world:

SCOTLAND'S largest teaching union will today call for action to cut class sizes. The Educational Institute of Scotland says all local authorities must do their bit or risk a class-size "lottery".
Actually, it's state-provided education that's more akin to a "lottery". The unions want smaller classes so as more of their members get jobs. Why don't they demand privatisation of education thus allowing good teachers to prosper?

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Back to the presents

I got five books yesterday with more to follow when I spend my book tokens. (Thanks to Mrs F&W and my sisters.)

At long last I've got a copy of Radicals for Capitalism by Brian Doherty. Published earlier this year, Doherty has written a "Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement." He gives special attention to the "Big Five" - Mises, Hayek, Rand, Rothbard and Friedman. I met numbers two, four and five. Indeed, I photographed Hayek at Buckingham Palace, chauffeured Rothbard in my car and first met Mrs F&W at a dinner addressed by Friedman. Doherty's book will be one to savour and in the latest issue of Economic Affairs it was highly praised by Dr Tim Evans, President of the Libertarian Alliance.

Next is The Triumph of the Political Class by Peter Oborne. I started this book last night and it is a cracker. Oborne makes the essential libertarian point. The ruling class doesn't consist of capitalist free marketers but of their opposite - a group of exploitative individuals who live by the state and in a just world would die by the market.

Scotland the Best is, well, the best guidebook to Scotland. Every two years Peter Irvine's book is updated with essential information on where to find the best ice cream, the best Indian restaurant, the best scenic drive, the best old-fashioned pub, wherever you are in the country. Don't worry - it also covers the likes of Loch Lomond and Edinburgh Castle...

I also now have a copy of Iain Dale's Guide to Political Blogging in the UK featuring yours truly.

The name R A Saville-Sneath conjures up an impression of a World War II RAF fighter pilot. Close. In fact, he wrote a book about aircraft recognition and it's been reissued by Penguin. Spitfires and Hurricanes, Dorniers and Heinkels - they're all here. The original book wasn't aimed at hobbyists. It was to make sure that we shot down the right planes!

Sales but no buys

I was rather pleased with myself by finishing Christmas shopping almost a week before the 25th. Like most men I don't really think that Christmas shopping should start before the 24th...

Last year I went to "the sales" a couple of days after they'd started. Big mistake. In the new spirit of non-procrastination I went down to Princes Street at around 10.30 this morning. First the local paper shop was shut so I couldn't get my copy of the Scotsman. Then there was a very long wait for a bus - normally they're every minute or so. Eventually I reached the target and went into Jenners. No suitable shirts, no suitable sweaters and no suitable hats. Why oh why did they sell out to House of Fraser? There ought to have been a law against it! (Oops!)

Then I went to Austin Reed, Crombie, Moss Bros and Brooks Brothers. Nothing!

I'd been to Brooks Brothers once before - in the Mall of America in Minneapolis, where prices were quite reasonable. Not so in George Street. I was about to depart when I saw what looked like a familiar figure. I nodded. He nodded. Ming Campbell, unless I am very much mistaken. (He lives nearby.) "Ming" bought a tie. I made my excuses, left, and went to the pub. And I found a copy of the paper.

Monday, 24 December 2007

Bangers and cash

Here's some interesting information from Money Week.

A Greggs sausage roll costs 90p in London but only 50p in Leeds (according to the Sunday Mirror). That seems reasonable to me, considering the difference in rents and wages.

But then I read that an investigation by the Greater Manchester Police into an incident in which a 12-year-old threw a cocktail sausage at a neighbour cost £20,000!

I suppose it's just as well that the "incident" didn't happen in London. Presumably an investigation by the Met would have cost around £36,000, although perhaps less for the non-cocktail variety.

(It doesn't seem possible to order sausage rolls online, but fortunately Mrs F&W is cooking Cumberland sausages tonight...)

Sunday, 23 December 2007

One of Scotland's greatest economists

And he's treated quite inappropriately in a reply to this entry on the Telegraph's blog:
I suppose Brown didn't want to be remembered as a Douglas Home character
I've always distrusted people who can't explain financial and economic matters simply. For example, in finance: the debits must equal the credits. In economics: you can't have your cake and eat it.

Alec Douglas Home understood these truths:

"When I have to read economic documents, I have to have a box of matches to simplify and illustrate the points to myself."

And so cartoonists pictured the Prime Minister working out balance of payments problems with matchsticks.

The cartoonists were wrong and Douglas Home was right.

I like to think that Douglas Home spread out his matchsticks on a table in his local pub. The smoking ban probably explains Gordon Brown's economic illiteracy...

The blogging urge has returned

And first a link to the Laird of the Urals:
I do love the Scots - interesting from an English Nationalist, isn't it? Except for Brown. He should be sent to Elba.

I think not. Here in Scotland we like the Italians. What's wrong with Mars?

Saturday, 15 December 2007

Scottish Engineering

We enjoyed nice light for photography today:

Forth Bridge
Originally uploaded by David Farrer

Falkirk Wheel
Originally uploaded by David Farrer

Friday, 14 December 2007

The Scotsman

I got a little nervous when I read this advance warning from Doctorvee:
Am I the only one who thinks the new design of (currently in beta) is absolutely dire? It’s all the more upsetting because in my view it was just about the only newspaper website out there that wasn’t in dire need of a redesign.
I agreed with the Doc's appraisal of the new design, and now sadly it's gone live.

Here's the story in today's paper:

THE Scotsman today unveils a new look for its award-winning website.

Changes to will make the site easier to use and more responsive to breaking news.

Those of us who pay for the Premium Access service have been locked out today. OK, we know that glitches happen when new systems are set up but it's unforgivable for management not to respond to angry customers. Why hasn't anyone from the paper replied to this thread, especially to those of us who've paid for extra benefits?

UPDATE: When I returned home this afternoon there was a letter from the Scotsman about the changes. Why wasn't it sent out in advance? The letter told me that I had to re-register for the Premium Service (which includes a free copy of the printed paper) and gave a web address for "the quickest way" to do so. "The page cannot be found" was the clever response to that attempt. I then phoned the Scotsman. The lady at customer services took my credit card details but phoned back to say that my MasterCard had been rejected. I then gave her my VISA number. She called back again and told me that the MasterCard had now been accepted after all! Apparently there's a problem with Edinburgh addresses - this is with the Scotsman!

I suggested that someone in the Scotsman's management team should have been reading the complaints from the customers and responding. All that's needed is something along the lines of: "We know there's a problem and we're working on it". But nothing.

As for the design itself, I have to agree that it's far worse than before. I accept that it's early days yet and things may improve. But in this day and age screwing up the launch of a new website can be the kiss of death for any business.

And another thing - I used to have a feed from the Evening News that I would read on the phone while enjoying my post-work pint. But now there are about 100 separate feeds to choose from! Give me strength.

I always thought that I'd buy the Scotsman business when I'd made my first billion. There's going to be a big clearout coming...

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Still here

James asks: Anyone home?

Yes, I'm still here but very busy.

When I moved back to Scotland I thought that I'd take things easy and enjoy the benefits of downsizing. But instead of having one job I now find myself with three.

Anyway, after the pre-Christmas rush, I hope to get back into normal blogging mode real soon.

In the meantime here are a couple of photos taken with my ancient Yashica 124G film camera that's once again come out of retirement. One was taken at Crail Harbour and the other in Edinburgh last Saturday. At least I think it was on Saturday but as it's not on digital you won't be able to catch me out if I got the day wrong!

Originally uploaded by David Farrer

Playfair Steps Edinburgh
Originally uploaded by David Farrer

A few more from the big camera are over here.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Sustainability in Aberdeenshire

The Trump affair has been big news here and has now moved onto the next stage:
The Scottish Government has intervened and called in Donald Trump's application for a £1 billion golf resort after it was rejected by local planners.

The objectors to schemes like this always talk about "sustainability" as if that trumps (!) any other consideration. But what is meant by sustainability? I never hear any of the green lobby acknowledging that mankind sustains itself by relentlessly altering the environment. If we didn't, few of us would survive beyond adolescence or indeed birth. I remember reading some years ago of a golf course development in (I think) Ayrshire being rejected by the local planners on the grounds that it would "intrude onto the green belt"! That says it all I think.

The Farrer family

I note that my relative Paul Farrer has made it into the Daily Mail:
The 34-year-old musician, who thought up the four-note ditty in just five minutes - and owns the copyright to all the show's music - receives an astonishing £700 every time The Weakest Link goes out in Britain on BBC2.

But in the U.S., the rate rises to a whopping £5,000 per programme.

Since developing the theme music seven years ago, he has earned enough to never have to work again.

I especially liked this bit:
"I've met Anne (Robinson) a few times and funnily enough, had a bit of a run-in with her at last year's BBC Christmas party.

"Somebody had told her how much I earn per episode and she gave a speech saying how livid she was about the fact that I was earning more money than her.

Monday, 3 December 2007

The new Libertarian Party

Hat tip to DK for this news:
A new force in British politics has been born. A new party to work for the interests of the United Kingdom and its people.

The Libertarian Party will be mounting its official launch in the New Year, along with a raft of actions and policies to roll back the draconian and authoritarian style of Government of the past 10 years.

On this post I expressed my general agreement with Neil Lock when he wrote this:
To sum up. A libertarian political party, in my view, is not the way forward for us lovers of freedom. For the state and its politics today are failing. To get ourselves deeply involved in politics would be exactly the wrong thing to do. Instead, we should continue to promote the ideas and values of individual liberty. We should aim to change the mental climate in favour of liberty. And, when we can, we should give the failing political system a helping hand in its self-destruction.
Way back in the early days of the Libertarian Alliance some of the comrades wanted to start a Libertarian Party but it never happened.

Wisely though, we took the view that In our Movement's House are Many Rooms. There was never any "party line" in the Libertarian Alliance for or against political activity. Some members pursued political action in various ways (*) and others chose the path of changing the culture.

Good luck to the new LP. Perhaps its time has come.

(* I myself got a mighty 199 votes in Hampstead for the Campaign to Abolish the GLC!)

Saturday, 1 December 2007

Scots Law: What's that?

As the Inland Revenue might ask:
This issue also focuses attention on the fact that some professionals in Scotland believe HMRC does not fully understand the differences in the country's legal systems.

James Aitken, senior associate with HBJ Gateley Wareing and a member of the Law Society of Scotland's tax law committee, said he has come across this situation several times, for example when discussing stamp duty land tax (SDLT) and possible changes to capital gains tax (CGT) with HMRC.

Aitken said: "When SDLT was introduced in Scotland, it only worked because the Scottish legal profession made it work. And only last week when I was discussing CGT with HMRC, some people didn't seem to know about the differences in partnership law in Scotland.

"I just feel that HMRC and the Treasury are becoming less and less knowledgeable about Scotland."

How about them forgetting altogether about us? Let's face it: if there aren't any taxes they won't have any discs to lose...

Wendy begins to get it

Wendy Alexander (Scottish Labour leader at the time of writing but it's so difficult to keep up) has started down the road that will lead to fiscal autonomy for Scotland:
The controversial 29-year-old system for the Treasury granting money to Scotland would be replaced by significant new powers for Scotland to set levels for some taxes and to be assigned a share of other taxes set in London.
I believe that English opinion will force financial autonomy on us whether we want it or not. We may as well get used to it.

Saturday, 24 November 2007

The Scottish "Right"

On Wednesday I attended a conference arranged by the Policy Institute.

The event was titled "The Future of the Right in Scotland". I thought this a rather unfortunate description for a day that was really about the future of free market, or perhaps liberal, ideas!

The conference itself was excellent and I liked the 11 am start and 3.30 pm finish.

First off was Mark Pennington who gave a very good talk based on his new book:

The authors argue that government attempts to undertake 'cultural planning' to create social capital are subject to exactly the same problems that led economic and industrial planning to fail. In order for democratic systems to work, they must be limited to co-ordinating certain core political functions.
I look forward to getting my copy from the IEA.

At lunch we broke up into three groups. Mark hosted the Environment group and Brian Monteith led the Public Services lunch. I was in the third group, which was hosted by Bill Jamieson of the Scotsman and which discussed the economy. Twenty or so of us had our say round a table that included some heavy-hitters from the academic, banking and investment worlds. Yours truly gave his usual spiel about the Austrian School of economics, about money being created out of thin air, about the fiddled inflation figures, about gold and all the rest of the old-time gospel. Normally this gets some amused smiles before conversation returns to the "real" world. Not this week. The heavy-hitters were nodding their heads in agreement. Keynesianism was nowhere to be seen.

After lunch there was a panel consisting of Professor John Curtice, Katie Grant, Murdo Fraser MSP and David Watt. Professor Curtice teased Murdo Fraser by suggesting that Scotland now had a right-of-centre government that was effectively an SNP-Tory coalition!

This was a most enjoyable event and I look forward to others like it.

Monday, 19 November 2007

Oh dear, here we go again!

Is another £21 million of our money going down the drain?


A MULTI-MILLION-POUND centre to boost economics research was to be officially opened in Edinburgh today.
Why not spend a few quid on one of these?

As the great man said:

the whole of economics can be reduced to a single lesson, and that lesson can be reduced to a single sentence. The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.

Does Britain Need a Libertarian Party?

That was the question asked in the 2007 Chris R. Tame Memorial essay contest.

The winning essay was the one from Neil Lock and can be read here.

I must say that my own views are more-or-less the same as Neil's.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Entering the state

Responding to my previous post David Wildgoose asks:
Putting it another way: Do you believe in voluntary association, and that a club, organisation or society should have the right to reject those applying to join it?
Yes, if we're really talking about a voluntary association. But is the state voluntary? Let's get back to first principles.

There are two types of libertarian. Some libertarians think that the state is necessary to deal with the problem of those who initiate force or fraud. That state would have military forces to deter overseas aggressors, a police service to deter and catch internal aggressors and a court system to determine guilt or innocence and to decide on compensation and penalties. Some of these "limited state" libertarians believe that such a system could be funded voluntarily and others are prepared to accept taxation as a necessary evil. No libertarian believes that the state should undertake any other functions.

Other libertarians go further. These "anarcho-capitalists" (or market anarchists) say that the state is unnecessary and that all of its functions can be carried out in the marketplace. Proponents of this view include Murray Rothbard and Hans-Hermann Hoppe.

Under anarcho-capitalism, all property is privately owned and access to every piece of property would be under the sole control of the owner. That would apply to roads, railways, hotels, offices, businesses as well as houses. In other words, no one would be able to enter or move within such a territory without the approval of all relevant owners. But even in a "limited state" the government wouldn’t own the roads either and the same principles of property control would apply.

What principles would owners adopt when deciding whom to let enter their property? Well, owners who would prosper in the long run would be those who'd limit entry to people expected to be productive members of society. And obviously there would be no government welfare if the state didn't exist at all or even if it were a properly limited state.

But given that we don't have a limited state, what then? I believe that the answer is clear. The government should act as if it were a rational owner concerned with the long-term capital value of the territory.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

I'm a Real Fascist Bastard!

Now I've got your attention let me explain.

Back in the old days people who believed in liberty were called "liberals". Those who didn't approve of liberty were not called liberals.

Liberty exists when you are free to live your life in any way you like so long as you don't interfere with the equal rights of others. Liberals don't initiate the use of force or fraud. Using force to get what you want means that you're not a liberal. Getting a third party - including government - to use force to achieve your ends means that you're not a liberal.

So far, so straight forward.

The trouble is that the enemies of liberty started to call themselves liberals. Why? Because people saw that liberty was good, so why not pinch its name? And now, in the English-speaking world anyway, liberalism means the opposite of liberty. It means government force.

Some folk attempt to get round this by claiming that there are two types of liberty. This is nonsense as is stated here:

"Negative liberty" IS liberty. "Positive liberty" seems to mean, in practice, appropriating someone else's resources - or perhaps confiscating someone else's wealth - or, to be blunt, stealing someone else's money. "Getting grants" for Paul means paying coercive taxes by Peter. It may even be a good idea, but it's got f... all to do with liberty.
Correct, except that it's not a "good idea".

Real liberals - faced with the theft of their good name - rebranded themselves as "libertarians". And people saw that libertarian ideas were good, just as the same ideas had been when they were called "liberal".

And now it's happened again. The enemies of liberty are increasingly describing themselves as libertarians. Or, rather, "left libertarians" - a completely meaningless concept under which force is freedom and coercion is liberty. Come back George Orwell.

I have a solution.

We (real) liberals should now market ourselves as "Real Fascist Bastards".

Fascism is today's big No No - in polite society anyway. So we'd have the term to ourselves. We could then proclaim, "Yes, we're Real Fascist Bastards and proud of it." Our name would be theft-free.

Or would it?

I can see it now. A few years down the track some naive youngster would come across a piece by an obscure and much persecuted group of "Real Fascist Bastards" that explained how personal freedom was necessarily linked with economic freedom. These RFBs appeared to support a form of limited government that didn't promise "positive freedoms". It even seemed that some countries had once operated on more-or-less RFB principles and had prospered mightily.

And then it would start all over again. Some Guardian columnist would claim to be a genuine Real Fascist Bastard and not one of those "so-called" RFBs. Before you could say "Hayek" or "Mises", the chat shows would be full of right-on, or rather left-on, Real Fascist Bastards.

Perhaps then we could call ourselves Liberals again.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

11th November

11th November
Originally uploaded by David Farrer

11th November
Originally uploaded by David Farrer

I took these photos earlier today.

Others can be seen on Scottish Clouds or on Flickr.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

BBC screws up

I don't approve of taxpayers having to fund big sporting events but I am glad that Glasgow has won the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Better that our money be spent on infrastructure than most other state boondoggles.

And one of those beneficiaries of the state is the BBC.

Isn't it astounding that the Beeb managed to screw up Glasgow's big moment?

BBC Scotland last night apologised after missing the moment of Glasgow's Commonwealth Games victory
Come on now - it's not like it's every day that the Queen gets invited to Celtic Park.

Friday, 9 November 2007

Dear Friends...

...I'm sure that you'll share my delight in hearing today's news that Abuja has been selected to host the 2014 Commonwealth Games. This is wonderful news for Nigeria.

Unfortunately we are a poor country. Unlike the Parkhead and Ibrox suburbs of Glasgow, our cities are not full of millionaires.

And so I ask for your help.

Would you kindly send me details of your bank account so as I may set up direct debits for you to help defray the cost of the Games that we are most honoured to be organising.

I do look forward to hearing from you all. It would be helpful if you would first send a copy of your bank's balance sheet. We don't want to waste our time, do we?

Yours sincerely,

Frank Lee Goldbug,

Finance Minister,


Am I the new David Bailey?

According to these people this blog's reading level is:

cash advance

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Obviously that's High School (Ayr Academy to be precise) as it was back in the 1960's.

But my other blog, which is simply a lot of photographs of Scotland, requires a higher level of reader (viewer?):

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Get a Cash Advance

Sunday, 4 November 2007

Reply to James Higham (Part 5)

One of the perennial myths about Scotland quoted in the Herald replies goes something like this: "55% of Scottish workers are employed by the state".

I wrote about this issue here:

There were 580,500 working in the public sector in the first quarter of 2007 - down 4,900 or 0.8% - compared to the same period last year.

... It compares with almost two million workers who were employed in the private sector in Scotland in the first quarter of 2007.

That's very slightly higher than the English proportion.

Now, it's perfectly true that total public expenditure in Scotland is far higher than the proportion of public sector workers - just as is the case in England. Governments spend on big capital projects and many private companies have contracts with the state. Are such expenditures too high in Scotland? Of course they are. I'm a libertarian and think that almost all government expenditure should be eliminated, everywhere.

One of the greatest problems faced by Scotland is the comparatively high pay and pension benefits enjoyed by the 23% who do work in the state sector. Private companies (with higher than average UK transport costs) find it very difficult to offer the same packages as are available in a state sector that often has UK-wide wage agreements. So the bright youngster chooses government employment and that is detrimental to economic growth. That's why I am perfectly happy to see Scotland's public sector expenditure slashed - quite apart from the fact that many of these jobs shouldn't exist at all.

I note from Friday's figures that even if Scotland had no oil revenues whatsoever its per capita tax take would still be higher than anywhere else in the UK outside the southeast of England. The conclusion must be that an independent Scotland could survive perfectly well - given sensible economic policies.

Such is the bitterness caused by bad reporting and analysis that I now suspect that independence will be thrust upon us whether we want it or not. I do hope that we'll continue to jointly fund and share the defence function should separation occur. Wales and Northern Ireland will have a lot more to worry about than will Scotland if England decides to go it alone.

That's it. Time for a dram.

Reply to James Higham (Part 4)

And now we come to the big question: what about the money?

I welcome the article in Friday's Herald that led to this series of posts. There's also the piece by Iain Macwhirter in Guardian Unlimited.

Some of the responses from England are measured but many are frankly extraordinary. I take things in no particular order but will start with the oil.

There's the chap who thinks that an independent Scotland wouldn't get any of the North Sea oil because "It's all in English waters." The only way anyone could think that is by believing that the UK is really a greater England. Slightly more sophisticated was the person who had discovered in the last few days that the boundary between the English and Scottish zones of the North Sea doesn't go due east but forms an extension of the land border from where it reaches the sea. Well, knock me down with a feather - I've known that for at least thirty years and so has everyone in Scotland who's interested. The boundary was settled ages ago. Bump off your mate on one North Sea rig and you'll end up in an English court, on another one you'll face fifteen jurors in a Scottish one. We know where the boundary is and the tax figures that I blogged about take that into account.

Then there are those who think that "English money" developed the oil, as if it had been extracted by the government. No, the UK government (not an English one) licensed numerous privately owned oil companies from many countries to drill for the oil and then the government collected the tax. And how about those who don't think that it's legitimate to include oil revenue in Scotland's p&l even when they agree that it comes from Scottish waters. Tell that to the Saudis or the Norwegians. It's like saying: "London's economy is a bit of a basket case but if we include the earnings of the City things look pretty good"!

More follows.

Reply to James Higham (Part 3)

Now of course Scottish nationalism is a potent force. Before May I had always voted Conservative and did so again in the Edinburgh City Council election. But, unlike four years ago, I switched to the SNP for the Scottish parliament vote. Partly that was because it seemed the best way to expel Labour from government. Many others took the same view and there was much rejoicing up here when Labour was kicked out. It also helped that so many of Scotland's entrepreneurs had switched to the Nationalists although there's no doubt that the SNP activists are still predominantly social-democrats.

I now turn to the outbreak of Scotophobia that's recently infected the English body politic.

It seems to me that the initial cause is the infamous West Lothian Question, which asks:

whether it is just that members of the UK Parliament (Westminster) elected from Scotland can vote on issues only affecting England, but English MPs, in turn, cannot vote on these same aspects in relation to Scotland.
Well of course it's not just. And not only should Scottish MPs be barred from voting on England-only issues, they shouldn't be able to debate them either. Indeed, they should suffer a commensurate cut in salary. And, get this. Apart from Labour apparatchiks, almost everyone in Scotland agrees with me.

The West Lothian Question and the coming of devolution have made English commenters aware of a Scotland that was previously of no interest to them.

I'm always surprised that so many English people don't seem to understand that there always were separate budgets for lots of government expenditure pertaining to Scotland long before devolution. Those "Highers" that I obtained at Ayr Academy long before the Blair era were administered by the Scottish Office in Edinburgh, not by the Department of Education down in England. Similarly, Scotland had its own budgets for health, justice, agriculture, fisheries and farming ages before devolution was on the horizon.

What the establishment of the Scottish parliament in 1999 brought was the freedom for local politicians to decide how to allocate Scotland's total budget between the various categories of devolved expenditure. (Technically all expenditure not "reserved" to Westminster.)

One part of the budget that's become a particular bone of contention is health. We're constantly hearing - at least if one reads the English versions of the press - that Scotland spends more per capita on health than England. Is that true? Yes. But how many English people have read that we spend less per capita on policing?

Then we've all read about the cancer drugs that are available on the Scottish NHS but not in England. What we don't hear about are the drugs that are available in England but not in Scotland. The two countries have separate drug approval bodies. Sometimes they make different decisions.

I repeat, the point of devolution was to allow different budgetary allocations to be made in England and Scotland. This is perfectly normal in other countries with devolved or federal governments. There seems to be something in the British psyche that can't stand the idea of differences. It's probably because Britain has an unusually centralised media, especially in the form of the BBC.

Aha, you may be thinking - but does Scotland get too much money altogether no matter how it is allocated?

More follows.

Reply to James Higham (Part 2)

After moving to London I started to go back to Scotland at least once a year. To begin with I had no interest in politics. I gradually got to know Scotland better and drove round the Highlands, visited the Islands and became familiar with Glasgow and Edinburgh.

One fateful day I bought a copy of the Scotsman and discovered that some folk north of the border favoured independence. I'd never thought about the idea before. About this time oil was discovered in the North Sea and the British government panicked and poured lots of extra public spending into a Scotland that was rapidly losing its traditional heavy industries such as shipbuilding and steel production.

I confess that the idea of independence did have a certain romantic appeal, but, despite the oil, I didn't really treat it too seriously. In the meantime I had become a libertarian and the whole idea of nationalism became of less interest.

More follows.

Reply to James Higham (Part 1)

In response to Friday's post James Higham has asked this:
And so, David, what conclusion do you draw from all this?
Well, that is indeed the big question - for Scotland and the UK. I plan to answer in several instalments.

First, although I fully accept the concept of free will, I can't deny that we are all affected by our own backgrounds. In my case that's an Anglo-Scottish one. My late father was born in England but spent a lot of his life in Scotland. My mother was born in Scotland but has lived in England for more than 40 years. One of my sisters is Scottish born and the other English.

But what about me?

I first saw the light of day in Scotland, but only a few miles north of the border. I went to school initially in Scotland, then England and then Scotland again. I took Highers rather than A-levels. But a few weeks after leaving school the family moved to England again and I lived in London for more than thirty years. Now I live in Scotland once more. Perhaps I should claim some kind of "Britishness" award from Gordon Brown. In fact, I've been to every county in the United Kingdom. How many others can claim that?

But being born in Dumfriesshire rather than an equally likely Cumberland means that I always support Scotland against England in any sporting contest. If England are playing foreign teams I'll support them, although when they play against Wales or Northern Ireland I may well support the underdog. After all, they're family.

What this means is that I do consider myself British as well as Scottish. I certainly don't feel that I'm a foreigner when I go to England.

All of this informs my views on the current political situation.

More will follow.


I am linking to a post on the Digital Photography Review site.

The thread is headed:

Rob Galbraith is my hero
So who is Rob Galbraith and what has he done?

Rob is a well-known photographer who drew attention to a problem with one of Canon's new cameras and is credited with getting Canon to recall the cameras for fixing.

The first reply in the thread says:

Heros are police, firefighters, teachers, social workers etc
Controversy follows. Someone else wrote:
What is so heroic about being a teacher?
The teachers on the thread got very upset with that one. Later in the thread someone writes about the military:
The HEROES of the war are those who willingly put themselves in harms way to save a comrade. IE, one who would willing fall on a grenade to save his comrades.
That sounds more like heroism to me. But the question I ask is this: why are social workers and teachers often described as heroes? I don't think that their work makes them heroic. They may do a difficult job, but so do millions of other people. Why aren't they heroes?

I think I know why.

Social workers and teachers are usually unionised public-sector employees and it suits their narrative as tax-consumers to portray themselves as heroes.

If social work and teaching had continued (as should have been the case) to be solely private sector occupations I bet it would never have occurred to them to have claimed heroic status.

Friday, 2 November 2007

Will this smash or save the Union?

I was down in London last weekend and read the now infamous article in the Daily Mail (English edition only!). It was another of those tiresome outbreaks of Jockophobia that have become all too common recently and one that contained the usual number of schoolboy howlers. It all makes things difficult for those of us who remain Unionists.

Today's Glasgow Herald has a rather interesting response.

Thanks to Cassilis for the image.

The main article by David Leask is here and the Herald's commentary is here.

Unfortunately the Herald's web links usually go dead after a day or two so read now if you're interested.(*)

The message is same as I've always thought: Scotland isn't the economic basket case often portrayed, is more productive than most of the UK outside the southeast and could survive perfectly well if forced into independence. I say, "forced", because that's beginning to look like the most likely way that it could come about.

With apologies for the formatting, these are the figures (from Oxford Economics) for per-capita tax paid and government spending for 2005-06:

Tax Spending Surplus
Scotland 9593 9631 -38
NI 6059 10271 -4212
Wales 5979 8969 -2990
Northwest 6913 8645 -1732
Northeast 6029 9162 -3133
Yorks and Humberside 6524 8170 -1646
West Midlands 6998 7929 -931
East Midlands 7174 7359 -185
Southwest 7373 8351 -978
East 8172 7256 916
Southeast 9397 7544 1853
London 10947 9748 1199
But here's the killer quote:
Where does all this money come from? The big figure includes the UK's entire North Sea revenues of £9.7bn for 2005-06. That could be controversial: there is dispute about how much oil and gas is from Scottish waters. The exact size of Scotland's oil bonanza has always been open to question, a key battleground in the statistical war between Nationalists and Unionists.

How North Sea revenue might be divided is also questioned. There are extensive gas fields off the coast of north-east England. A split might mean 75% or even 95% of the total coming to Scotland. It should be borne in mind that the £9.7bn figure came at a time when Brent crude was trading at as much as $50 per barrel. Today it is more than $90.

So without all of the oil, Scotland's screwed?

Well, let's see.

Ignoring today's price of $94.85 per barrel, Scotland's lowest share for the North Sea is 75%. That worst case would mean a loss of "Scottish" taxation amounting to £2.425 billion, or 4.95% of our current total of £49 billion. On that basis the per-capita Scottish tax take falls to £9,118 and our deficit rises to £513 per person (5.33% of spending). With 80% of North Sea revenues, Scotland's deficit is 4.34% of expenditure. In other words, a difference that could easily be eliminated by a spending freeze for a couple of years or so.

Needless to say, I could achieve a breakeven by rather more robust methods.

And it's not as if the UK itself doesn't have a deficit.

(*) (UPDATE: Neil Craig has pointed out that the Herald's webpages are now remaining live)

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

In the City

I was about to take a photograph of the entrance to the Stock Exchange on Friday when a security guard popped out and said that wasn't allowed but that it was OK to take this one of the sign. All I could see beyond the glass door was a common-or-garden looking reception area.

If you don't like the City's strange secrecy there's always an alternative in Brick Lane:

Been Away

In London. At the Libertarian Alliance Conference.

Some photos are here

Saturday, 20 October 2007

Scottish and Newcastle - self made victims

I fully agree with those who think that the location of head offices has an important bearing on the prosperity of different parts of the country. Edinburgh is fortunate in hosting several large PLCs and it would be sad to see the departure of the Scottish & Newcastle HQ even though their brewing activities have disappeared from the city.

But this makes one despair:

SCOTTISH & Newcastle's claim that losing its independence could undermine the government's campaign against binge-drinking was dismissed as "irrelevant" by City analysts yesterday.
Good for the City analysts. Such a claim by S&N is straight out of Ayn Rand's concept of the Sanction of the Victim
The Sanction of the victim is defined as "the willingness of the good to suffer at the hands of the evil, to accept the role of sacrificial victim for the 'sin' of creating values."
Beer is a legitimate product that S&N should be proud of. On second thoughts, I'll not be weeping in my beer if they lose their independence. Brewers should have nothing to do with the government's nanny state policies. In a free society, the only proper role of governments with regard to drinking would be to police the streets properly and deal vigorously with drunks. That's it. "Binge-drinking", so-called, is none of the government's business if no violence is involved. One can't help wondering though whether state education and welfare policies might just have something to do with certain people's lack of control.

What we really need to worry about is binge-legislating...

Note to journalists

All concrete at airports isn't a "runway".

But they almost always think that it is:

The incident was the second aircraft collision this week at a UK airport. On Tuesday, passengers screamed in panic when a British Airways jumbo jet and a Sri Lankan airliner hit each other on a Heathrow runway.
The BBC story is similar:
An eye-witness, aboard the Sri Lankan airliner, claimed it hit the BA aircraft from behind while manoeuvring on the runway.
But the BBC's drawing shows the collision as taking place on the taxiway near to Runway 27 Right, but not on it. There would have to have been a complete breakdown in air traffic control procedures for both aircraft to be on the runway at the same time.

The next day's Times is slightly different:

Air accident investigators are studying the incident, in which the wingtips of a Sri Lankan Airlines Airbus A340 and a BA Boeing 747 clashed on a taxiway just short of the northern runway.
So now, as I expected, the collision didn't take place on a runway at all.

Now all this may seem to be a bit academic although the incident could have been far more serious had it actually taken place on a runway. The point is this: just how frequently are stories in the mainstream press quite different from how they are reported?

All too often I suspect.

Sunday, 14 October 2007

More on the Andrew Marr show

This week's newspaper reviewers were Carol Thatcher and "Comedian and Actor" Patrick Kielty. I took an instant dislike to Mr Kielty because he spent the programme squatting on one of his legs so that his shoe looked like it was scuffing the license-payers' sofa. Straightaway I had him marked down as a leftist.

Sure enough my intuition was proven correct when the subject of Al Gore's Nobel Prize for Fiction Peace was discussed. To be fair, Kielty wondered why Gore was getting a Nobel Prize for Peace. (Kielty is from Northern Ireland.) But he spoiled it all by saying that Gore was merely stating the obvious - that the world is heating up. But that's not what Gore is on about. Gore claims that global warming is primarily caused by the actions of humans - and that's certainly not accepted by all scientists.

Then Kielty's leftism kicked in again. Wasn't it hilarious that the recent court case against Gore's film being shown uncritically in schools was funded by "a Scottish quarrying magnate?" I'm not sure why Christopher Monckton's Scottishness is significant but Kielty clearly assumed that a "quarrying magnate" would inevitably be anti-Gore.

Kielty completely ignored the fact that the global warmers are themselves regularly funded and supported by people looking after their own class interests. Gore's proposals mean more jobs for state-paid scientists, state-paid academics, state-paid politicians and state-subsidised businessmen.

It's that old Bastiat thing again, isn't it?

What is seen is that some people may gain from a particular proposal, but what is not seen is that others may also gain from doing the opposite.

The "British" Broadcasting Corporation

Neil Craig's analysis is correct:
This morning the BBC news headlines on the Andrew Marr show started with the news that England had beaten somebody or other at rugby
But, as Neil points out:
Scotland had thrashed the Ukraine 3-1 at football
And Neil's conclusion:
Surely if the English result was top of the list this should at least have been mentioned as well. Football is after all a vastly more popular game than rugby.
It wasn't just "top of the list", it was the subject of the first interview as well.

Not only that, BBC Scotland showed the England v. Estonia game on BBC1 at the same time as Scotland were playing at Hampden Park. I presume the explanation is the same as when this happened a week or two ago: "We were outbid for the Scotland Game." As others pointed out at the time, the BBC managed to bid enough for the England game, but not the Scottish one. With Scots paying 9% of the license fee but having 3% of the programming made up here it's no wonder that so many of us feel that we're getting a raw deal.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

A statist writes

This is behind the Scotsman's subscription wall so I'll limit myself to this quote:
Those in financial markets who believe in free markets have temporarily abandoned their faith. For the greater good of all (of course, it is never for their own selfish interests), they argued a bail-out was necessary.
Thus writes the hugely overrated Joseph Stiglitz who is a Nobel laureate in economics.

I've never known anyone who has a "faith" in free markets. All real free marketeers justify the market firstly on moral grounds - namely that it's wrong to initiate force or fraud on others - and secondly on a proper understanding of economic principles that leads inexorably to their supporting laissez faire.

Next, I haven't heard any free marketers calling for a banking bailout, especially as the main long-run beneficiaries would probably be politicians.

Finally, the whole banking crisis is caused by the opposite of free markets. It's the inevitable result of a system that allows governments (and their client banks) to create money out of thin air thereby devaluing the savings of honest citizens.

Arithmetic for editors

I imagine that most readers will have read about this:
Alistair Darling announced that he planned to withdraw capital gains tax (CGT) taper relief, under which there are different rates of CGT for different kinds of investment, down to as low as 10 per cent, replacing it with one rate of 18 per cent.
Fairly straightforward - up from 10% to 18%.

But what about this?

From April, there will be no taper relief and all gains will be subject to the 18 per cent rate, meaning entrepreneurs who have built up businesses over their lifetimes and were perhaps looking forward to selling up to fund retirement will find that unless they do it before next April, they will pay 8 per cent more tax than they were expecting to.
No Mr Business Editor. That's 80% more tax.

Monday, 8 October 2007

Scotland out of the Commonwealth?

First it was the EU.

Now it's the Commonwealth:

AN INDEPENDENT Scotland might have to apply to join the Commonwealth rather than enjoy automatic entry.

I don't think so somehow.

The scene: sometime in the future...

Scotland has voted for independence. The Queen has just opened the first session of the new parliament. Afterwards, she invites Prime Minister Goldie and opposition leader Sturgeon over to Holyrood House for a "girls' night in". Bevvies will be provided. Meanwhile, the Duke of Embra, accompanied by Alex Salmond and other members of the House of Lairds, heads off towards the Grassmarket.

After a few G&Ts Ms Goldie expresses her disappointment that Scotland is no longer in the Commonwealth. But what's this? No one has told Her Majesty. The Queen of Scots whips out her iPhone and speed dials the Commonwealth secretary-general.

The next morning the world's media gathers at the Tolbooth for the first public execution for treason in these islands for many a year. Naturally, the Queen of Scots has cunningly secured worldwide rights for the live coverage on the Internet. Scotland remains in the Commonwealth.

The Frit Minister

I share the widespread delight in seeing the Clunking Fist come a cropper.

As well as his playing politics with our troops it seems likely that the Tory pledge to raise the inheritance tax threshold has paid off for them. But I'm not at all happy to hear that the IHT cut is to be funded by the £25,000 "hit" on the non-domiciled community.

Don't get me wrong, if they live here they should pay tax like the rest of us. The point is this - why does a tax cut have to be covered by a tax rise somewhere else? The Tories still don't get it, do they? What we need is a massive cut in government expenditure. Until the Conservatives start making a moral case along those lines many of their former voters will not be returning to the fold.

(My computer must be an old Thatcherite - the spellchecker recognises "frit" but not "blog".)

UK at Home

This project may be of interest to readers who are photographers.

Saturday, 6 October 2007

Down with the database state

Now we're to get an Identity Fraud Tsar:
AN identity fraud tsar is to be appointed to co-ordinate efforts to tackle the growing problem of the crime, an all-party MPs group said today.
So why encourage the fraudsters?

Say no to ID cards!

Friday, 5 October 2007

Talk of the Town

Earlier today I went through from Auld Reekie to the Big Smoke. Fortunately I managed to avoid John Smeaton!

People were talking about the very pleasant weather and yours truly found himself wearing far too many clothes in an attempt to prevent last week's cold from reappearing. Such is life on the Costa Clyde.

The other topic of conversation among the Weegies was - wait for it - football.

Aberdeen's progress in the Uefa Cup was noted. The stunning victory of Rangers away at Lyon was much discussed. But the main topic was the idiot who ran onto the park at the end of Celtic's home win against AC Milan. I see that the idiot in question has handed himself in. I reckon that he'd be well advised to stay inside the police station for at least 50 years.

I've heard leftists point out that England has only ever won the World Cup under a Labour government. True, I suppose. So why hasn't Gordon Brown claimed credit for Scotland's recent sporting triumphs? Well, you see, sport is generally devolved. I can just imagine the First Minister telling the Frit Minister that "It's the SNP what won it!"

Two things that can be said with certainty: As soon as "real libertarianism" has been established, Scotland will win the World Cup and Kilmarnock the Champions League...

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

In praise of Edinburgh imperialism

This is another idea I got from the latest issue of Economic Affairs


Nevertheless, such cities (for example, Bradford, West Yorkshire) may have been in receipt of vast sums of regional aid, in one form or another, since such aid has existed. Nearby Leeds, however, has thrived. Property prices and land for "Leeds" housing are at a premium. Might a more radical solution be to accept that Bradford should be given a series of Leeds postcodes? Would Bradford fare much better as an initially cheaper, largely residential suburb of Leeds?

If one takes a Number 26 bus from Princes Street it's hardly any time at all beyond Portobello that one leaves the city and enters East Lothian. The small sign can easily be missed and the suburban sprawl continues uninterrupted.

It's quite different on the west side. The airport, the southern end of the two bridges, the foothills of the Pentlands and quite a few farms are all technically in the "City of Edinburgh", and the EH postcodes go even further. The outer west is also an economically prosperous part of the city. It includes the large Edinburgh Park office development and the world headquarters of the Royal Bank.

So we must expand further...

Why not allocate postcodes EH56 to EH200 to a greater Edinburgh beyond the already colonised outposts like Linlithgow and Livingston?

I'm thinking of Falkirk, EH71; Shotts, EH83; Airdrie, EH90; Coatbridge EH91; Motherwell, EH94 and so on.

Indeed, is not our natural boundary the High Street of Glasgow? Beyond there the Weegies can keep their "G" codes.

Furthermore, under this plan Edinburgh would usually have a team in the Champions League, would it not?

We don't care what the animals say,
What the hell do we care,
For we only know,
That there's gonna be a show,
And the Embra Celtic will be there.
You know it makes sense.

Or should we go all the way to Gourock?

Monday, 1 October 2007

For photographers

This has got to be about the best comment ever made on a photography forum.

Where do these ideas come from?

Like this one:
How can Scotland ever be rich with just 160000 people contributing to it's (sic) economy?

Get real.

That was a comment from reader Jeremy Jacobs on a previous post of mine.

This is from the BBC:

The number of unemployed in Scotland has fallen and is close to an all-time low, according to official figures.

Employment statistics equalled a previous high set in 1992 showing 2.53 million people in work, an increase of 60,000 since last year.

All in the public sector I suppose? OK, OK, except for those admirable 160,000 "contributors" of whom I am one.

Not quite:

There were 580,500 working in the public sector in the first quarter of 2007 - down 4,900 or 0.8% - compared to the same period last year.

... It compares with almost two million workers who were employed in the private sector in Scotland in the first quarter of 2007.

None of that's surprising. As I wrote here:
Mr Smith finds that the Scottish GVA per capita comes in at 96.2 against a UK index of 100. That puts us economically below London, the Southeast and the East of England, but above the other eight UK regions. Not too bad, I'd say. Smith then does something rather clever. He adjusts the regional per capita output figures to take account of the differing costs of living. Scotland's "real" GVA per capita now comes out at 101.8 against the UK's 100. So we produce a bit less than the UK average but it goes further
And none of that includes any North Sea oil.

Of course Scotland should be performing much better - as should the rest of the UK. I still hanker after a fully federal United Kingdom, ideally with defence at the UK level and all other government functions (preferably hardly any at all) dealt with by Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh and London. But part of me is tempted to go for independence - just to show that we can do it. I'll certainly be voting SNP at the next general election unless David Cameron starts quoting Adam Smith and Ludwig von Mises on Wednesday.

Saturday, 29 September 2007


I know that we've got to say "allegedly" in these cases but this alleged attack allegedly took place in a courtroom!


Dollars and sense

I've mentioned these folks before but would remind readers that an excellent background to the weekend surfing is listening to the Financial Sense Newshour.

In particular I would recommend this week's Dollar Roundtable.

It's scary stuff but I expect that the problems here in the UK are at least as worrying as in the US.

Friday, 28 September 2007

Poverty of ideas

The latest issue of Economic Affairs features several articles on poverty. How about this from Chris Sarlo (of Nipissing University, Canada)?
Respondents were asked what poverty means to them and were given several statements to choose from. Almost 70% of respondents chose statements close to a "basic needs" concept of poverty: that is, they felt that poverty meant either, "not having enough to buy basics like food and clothing", or "having to struggle to survive each and every day". Only 1.8% selected an answer ("having a lot less than everyone else") which reflected a purely relative notion of poverty... while academics often prefer relative poverty measures, that preference' "does not always coincide with popular conceptions of poverty".
I'll say it doesn't always coincide. 1.8% to 70%!

It seems that academics almost invariably use the relative poverty concept that is rejected by most normal people. I suggest that most academics like the relative poverty definition because they themselves are usually welfare recipients who are defending their own class interest. In Britain, the exceptions would be those employed by the University of Buckingham.

A common measure of "poverty" used by academics and other members of the ruling class is 60% of median income. That produces some wonderful possibilities.

Let's imagine a community of three people. Their salaries are:

A 1,000
B 2,000
C 9,000
The average (or mean) is 4,000, but the median (middle value) is 2,000. 60% of the median is 1,200 - therefore A is in poverty. He is "deprived", even in the event of the unit of currency being tons of gold!

But it gets better. If C emigrates, the median falls to 1,500 (that's how the median of two numbers works out). 60% of the median is now 900 and lucky Mr A is now no longer poor. Yes, the departure of the richest member of the community results in poverty being abolished!

A thought occurs to me. Instead of sucking up to Scotland's millionaires like Tom Hunter and Tom Farmer why doesn't Alex Salmond kick them out of the country thus making us all so much better off?

29 again

I've been a bit under the weather recently - hence the lack of posts.

I'd like to thank Iain Dale (and his panel of judges) for this:


Number 29! Nae bad...

Saturday, 22 September 2007

An open letter to Alex Salmond

Dear First Minister,

We met briefly at the Edinburgh Book Festival last month and I mentioned that I was one of those former Conservative voters who had switched to the SNP.

I’d like to draw your attention to an opportunity for Scotland.

Over the last couple of days there’s been an unprecedented outburst of anger in the world of British political websites. What’s happened has united people across the entire political spectrum. The full details can be read:


and also:


Briefly, two bloggers wrote articles about the Russian/Uzbekh billionaire, Alisher Usmanov, and his lawyers successfully persuaded the hosting company to close down the two sites. But here’s the shocker – the hosting company also closed other sites on the same server even though the owners of those sites had never written a word about the issue at hand. Sites shut down include those of Labour councillor Bob Piper and Conservative mayoral candidate Boris Johnson MP.

The hosting company has clearly panicked in the face of Britain’s particularly harsh libel laws that strike at the heart of freedom of speech.

But of course we have a separate legal system here in Scotland and therein lies the opportunity.

The modern economy depends on freedom of communication and that is one reason why the United States is so predominant in the world of IT and other industries of the future. The First Amendment of the US Constitution protects freedom of speech. More recently, Section 230 of the US Communications Decency Act has added the following provision:

No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.

That seems fair to me.

Scotland can gain a competitive advantage by introducing robust laws that protect freedom of speech for both individuals and companies.

Why not go for it?

You wouldn’t want your website to be shut down like Boris Johnson’s.

With best wishes,

David Farrer

Friday, 21 September 2007

More numbers

I had a go at this quiz that I found on Megan McArdle's site.

I was quite pleased to get 54 out of 60 answers correct which is apparently much better than the typical Harvard man. Five of the six errors concerned fairly obscure questions on American history but the sixth was number 58:

"What is a major effect of a purchase of bonds by the Federal Reserve?"
Outrageous, I thought. I know I'm right! Just wait till I find the appropriate texts and I'll blast those damned Keynesians. But then I heard a voice from the past - always read the question. I'm afraid that I'd read it as a sale of bonds. Oh dear. I suppose that it was number 58 and I was getting tired.

Some of the comments were very interesting:

This Canadian scored 80%. I'll bet very few Americans would score that high on an equivalent Canadian test.
As others pointed out, Americans would know a lot more about Canada if the respective population sizes were reversed. It's not unlike the situation in the UK, I think.

Scots know far more about England than is the reverse. I'm constantly amazed about how many otherwise sensible English folk think that we all live in Glasgow (I love the place by the way), sound like Rab C Nesbitt, occupy a council house, are on the dole and have never paid a penny in income tax. Of course, the resource-rich Canadians are having a quiet laugh now that the value of their Dollar has overtaken the American one. Who knows what the future will bring here...


It was nice to read that F&W has been placed at number 7 in Iain Dale's list of Top Twenty Scottish Blogs.

Thanks to Iain but even more so to Grant Thoms of Tartan Hero who did the actual selecting.

Grant writes:

I have to say that the political alignments which were posted on Iain Dale's Blog are not mine.
I'd noticed before that Iain lists me under the Conservative section as well as the Scottish one on his blog. I am of course a libertarian rather than a Conservative. For the record though I had always voted for the Tories until this year. In May I voted Conservative in the Edinburgh City Council election but SNP for the Scottish Parliament.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Where's Gordon?

That's what everyone is asking.

It couldn't be, could it, that he's about to make a really big announcement?

Along these lines:

Some of you have been concerned about recent financial news. You may rest assured that I've been giving this matter my full attention.

I'm pleased to announce that I have come back from Frankfurt, with this bit of paper, signed by Herr Hitler Frau Merkel, in which she has agreed to the United Kingdom's immediate adoption of the Euro.

Don't worry; the pound in you pocket will not be affected. It will just have a new name. For one pound, you now have one Euro.

There's more good news. When the rest of Britain's gold is sent to Germany I have arranged for it to be shipped from Tyneside, not Tilbury. Those Labour-voting Geordies will need all the jobs they can get.

Thank you all. Good night and God save bless Britain.

Sunday, 16 September 2007

Rock of Ages

I'd noticed this too in Edinburgh:
The majority of people queuing were middle aged or retired.

(And "a bit boisterous" in Glasgow!)

On Friday an explanation might have been that younger depositors would be at work, but the same age profile could be seen on Saturday.

I then started to think that depositors would generally be older; their savings financing the mortgages of younger borrowers. That may well be the case. But is there another factor?

On Friday morning I risked my blood pressure by listening to the BBC's Today Programme. The fascinating part was when a reporter told us that he'd spoken to the oldest person in a City bank and even he couldn't remember a similar bailout.

The last one was in 1973.

Back in those days bank employees weren't usually graduates. Let's assume that most joined a bank at 18 although for some it would be at 16. That means that you'd now have to be 52 (or possibly 50) to have worked in a bank in 1973. And not a single person of that age could be found!

We all know that banks have a policy of getting rid of people older than 50 - except for the senior directors of course. Perhaps the chickens are now coming home to roost. Banks are staffed by youngsters who've never known tough times. Similarly, borrowers are all-too-often youngsters who probably don't even realise that credit cards and mortgages are normally financed by the wrinklies. The problem is that much of Britain's profligate borrowing and spending hasn't been financed from savings but by credit creation through the fiat monetary system.

Youngsters probably think that wealth is created free by nice, smiling politicians like Tony Blair and David Cameron or even by the no-longer-scowling Gordon Brown. The wrinklies are sufficiently in touch with reality to know that's not true and that's why they're getting their money out. It's a pity some of them weren't still employed by the banks.

Saturday, 15 September 2007


Mrs F&W asks an interesting question.

When Northern Rock phones the Bank of England for some of our dosh, will they be told: "That'll take three or four working days to be cleared into your account"?

Northern Rock

I'm dealing with the comments on the previous item in this new post.

Bill writes:

It would hardly be possible to run a modern society, whether 'capitalist' or 'soclialist' without the use of 'paper and bytes'
I agree entirely. The question is though: What do those papers and bytes represent? At present they represent the promises of politicians.

Bill also writes:

The gold standard whilst based on a finite resource was based on a commodity with little intrinsic value
I'm not suggesting that money be based on something having intrinsic value.

Why not?

Because nothing has intrinsic value:

The first step in understanding the Austrian concept is to realize that value is entirely subjective, rather than something objective. Value, therefore, is something that each individual person weighs on a purely private, not a public, set of scales. To try to find something akin to a yardstick for distance or a balance for weight, by which to measure value so that two or more persons can see and agree on a "just price," is futile. There is no such thing according to the Austrian concept of value. To try to find value that way is like trying to find the trail for an animal, and hence find the animal, when there is no such animal.
According to the Austrian premise, then, value is not intrinsic in the sense of being susceptible of objective measurement by any means whatever. Certain qualities of things are, to be sure, intrinsic and measurable, and affect value for this or that person. But they affect value in different ways for different persons and are at best only a part of the origins of value.
The reason that gold and silver became used as money was not because they have intrinsic value - they don't - but because millions of people over thousands of years and in all sorts of societies made individual decisions to value those minerals. Value is subjective.

Friedman argued in favour of a gradually increasing supply of (government) money - to keep pace with economic growth. But it's not turned out like that. The UK and US are "enjoying" monetary growth of around 13% PA. Hence the asset booms in housing and shares. We are now suffering the consequences.

More realistically, Hayek wrote in favour of a currency backed by a "basket" of commodities.

But I still don't trust any politicians having power over our money. I'm with Murray Rothbard:

The book made huge theoretical advances. He was the first to prove that the government, and only the government, can destroy money on a mass scale, and he showed exactly how they go about this dirty deed.

Rothbard shows precisely how banks create money out of thin air and how the central bank, backed by government power, allows them to get away with it. He shows how exchange rates and interest rates would work in a true free market. When it comes to describing the end of the gold standard, he is not content to describe the big trends. He names names and ferrets out all the interest groups involved.

James Higham is correct. The current system was set up by financial cabals using the power of the state for their own ends. I can see why some folk think that socialism is all about "the government helping the poor". In reality government spending is a case of someone living at the expense of someone else. The first "someone" is often richer than the second. And so I say to Martin that "immediately after the United Kingdom suffering a bank run" is exactly the occasion to examine the cause. And the cause isn't capitalism (free markets and property rights) but its opposite.

Friday, 14 September 2007

Crisis of socialism

For some extraordinary reason Chris thinks that this is a "crisis of capitalism"

Capitalism is not as stable and self-sustaining as it seems. It needs the state to step in sometimes to protect it.
On the contrary, we are seeing a crisis of socialism. The entire monetary system is the creation of politics with money being produced out of thin air. A capitalist monetary system would be based on real assets and not on a witch's brew of paper and bytes. Just because many of the beneficiaries of the fiat monetary system are rich and powerful doesn't make it capitalist. As always, the poor suffer most from socialism and its inevitable breakdowns.

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Monday, 10 September 2007

Great chieftain o' the rugby race

Mrs F&W and I were married in Park City, Utah - by the Sheriff of Summit County, no less. We stayed in the Thatcher Room!

You can imagine our surprise when we read this in yesterday's Mail on Sunday:

It took a man from Park City Haggis rugby club, Utah, winning his first international cap, to complete a truly miserable night for English rugby.

Sunday, 9 September 2007

You'll have had your chips?

Earlier in the week I wrote a few words about Belgium:
It is made up of 60% Dutch-speaking, free-market oriented Flemings in the north and 40% French-speaking, predominantly Socialist Walloons in the south. The Flemish economic output per person is 124 percent of the EU average, and there is growing resentment that Flemish taxes are being used to subsidize the poorer French-speaking south, where economic output is 90 percent of the EU average.
I also mentioned that I'd have some more to say on the Cockpit of Europe for what's going on in Belgium may well affect us here in Scotland.

The ongoing political crisis in Belgium is caused by the deep divisions between the Dutch and French communities. And unsurprisingly France itself is taking an interest:

Yesterday the conservative French newspaper Le Figaro published a column by Alexandre Adler in which Adler urged the French President Sarkozy to prepare for the annexation of Wallonia by France. Adler said Sarkozy should not miss this historic opportunity “to govern an enlarged France.”
Were that to happen we could expect the Flemish part of Belgium to join the Netherlands.

There is a catch however:

For Brussels, “historically a Flemish, but today a predominantly French-speaking and simultaneously a European and cosmopolitan city,” Sarkozy envisions a new status as European Capital District. “This will allow Brussels to become a truly quadrilingual capital of a united Europe. Naturally the EU will provide Brussels with the necessary funds.”

Then there is the small matter of Brussels being close to 50% Muslim Brussels having such a sizeable Muslim population...

And just how does this mess affect Scotland? Consider this view of what would happen in the event of a simple split between Flanders and Wallonia:

The fact that there would be two new states instead of a united Belgium will simply increase the number of member states from 27 to 28
Which brings us back to when I asked whether an independent Scotland would be allowed to join the EU:
I think that it's inconceivable that the EU would somehow stop an independent Scotland from joining the club. It's not just the oil, the fresh water, the minerals and the renewable energy. What matters is that we're part of what the EU considers to be theirs.
Belgium, Wallonia, Flanders and Scotland: the EU wants all of them. I maintain that an independent Scotland would be strongly encouraged to remain in the EU. Whether we should want to is quite another matter of course.

(Incidentally, if all of the above comes about France would have a population 25% greater than that of England and Eurocrats would probably have to learn Arabic.)

Saturday, 8 September 2007


Russian Destroyer
Originally uploaded by David Farrer

In Ayr Bay yesterday in connection with the Varyag memorial event.

Some of the crew were in full buying mode in Ayr's new shopping centre. One particularly mean-looking officer who carried a large briefcase grunted when I said "hello". A junior sailor smiled and nodded to me.

I didn't see any of them in the pub...

Separated at birth?

Goodness me! Doesn't Iain Dale (the one on the right!) bear a passing resemblance to Jack McConnell?

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Oh please

I've no objection to PR in principle, but why is so much of it nonsense?
A huge regeneration of Leith Docks featuring 16,000 new homes has been unveiled in the largest planning application in Edinburgh's history.

Forth Ports, which is behind the plans, hopes the 30 year project could create about 12,000 jobs and turn the city into a "world-class" destination.

Edinburgh is already a "world-class" destination. And when I read that "Parisian-style cafes feature heavily in the plans" for this new development, I want to throw up.

For starters one would have thought that local politicians and planners might have noticed that we don't enjoy Parisian weather. More to the point, one of the main reasons why we are already a "world-class" destination is that Edinburgh has a very large percentage of the world's finest pubs. So what does the Council intend doing about that?

Yep, destroy the character of those very same pubs:

and bars would be forced to provide seats for at least 50 per cent of drinkers.
Angry Steve gets it right and he's not the only one who's angry.

So few lampposts, so many traitors...

Monday, 3 September 2007

The Raj

One of Europe's countries is becoming increasingly divided. The north and the south are at loggerheads. The Monarch is concerned that the country may split. The most populous bit of the country favours markets and is recognised as one of the most prosperous parts of Europe. The other bit is dominated by socialists and has a higher percentage of public-sector workers. But here's the shocking thing. The socialist part, despite having fewer people, politically dominates the capitalist majority.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I'm writing about Belgium! Welcome to the Walloon Raj:

It is made up of 60% Dutch-speaking, free-market oriented Flemings in the north and 40% French-speaking, predominantly Socialist Walloons in the south. The Flemish economic output per person is 124 percent of the EU average, and there is growing resentment that Flemish taxes are being used to subsidize the poorer French-speaking south, where economic output is 90 percent of the EU average.
Back to local matters for the time being. (I'll have more to say about Belgium later.)

I've said before that Scotland's economic situation isn't nearly as bad as is assumed by many in the English blogosphere. The former Tory MSP, Brian Monteith, has drawn our attention to this fascinating bit of information from the National Statistics:

% of UK voters paying income tax: 64.6%

% of Scottish voters paying income tax: 65.34%

By the way, the percentage of Scots workers in the public sector is 23.5% (2005-06). But what about the perception? I've lost count of the number of folk down south who seem to think that no one works up here. The fact that the figures show that Scotland isn't a British version of Wallonia (economically) may not matter. When the Brown bubble bursts and TSHTF or it's even TEOTWAWKI, we may find ourselves ejected from the Union whether we want it or not. Just as Niall Ferguson suggested.

Sunday, 2 September 2007

UFOs over Edinburgh?

Festival Fireworks
Originally uploaded by David Farrer

Festival Fireworks
Originally uploaded by David Farrer

(Other photos are on Scottish Clouds.)

Craig Murray

Craig Murray
Originally uploaded by David Farrer

I forgot to write about my final event at the Book Festival.

Craig Murray was British ambassador in Uzbekistan until he fell out with the Foreign Office over his criticism of the Uzbek regime.

We heard some interesting stories. Like when Murray was offered the position of high commissioner in Malawi but turned it down as not being a good career move. Apparently the salary on offer was half that being "earned" by the new commissioner, who also may get a peerage. Now, why could that be?

Then we heard of Murray's visit to Buckingham Palace where he got better advice about his new posting from Princess Anne - who knew Uzbekistan from her Save the Children work - than anything offered by the Foreign Office.

Quite different from Jack Straw's message to Murray at the end of his ten-minute send-off chat:

"Well, when you get to wherever it is you're going, tell them that I'm often thinking about them"

Still spinning

Blair may have gone but the Blair Broadcasting Corporation is still spinning:
The Scottish Executive is to be rebranded as the Scottish Government, it has been confirmed.
No - it's already been rebranded, as we can see from the photo and as we can read about in the very same article:
A new Scottish government sign has been put in place outside its Victoria Quay building in Leith, replacing the existing Scottish Executive sign.
I always hated the Labour government's policy of leaking news to friendly journalists who could then write: "The minister will announce today..." How did they know that the minister wouldn't be struck down by a bolt of lightning before making his pronouncement? I suppose the weather's been nationalised just like the BBC. When journalists say that something will happen, the event should be in the future and should definitely occur.

Monday, 27 August 2007

Niall Ferguson

Niall Ferguson
Originally uploaded by David Farrer

The Glaswegian historian gave a very good presentation on Monday morning. When leaving England a friend had said to him: "You're off home for the weekend then?" "HOME!" replied Ferguson. "I'm going to Edinburgh!" Some things never change...

Ferguson's talk was based on his The War of the World. In a wide-ranging talk we heard about the two world wars, the US in the Middle East, China, Russia, finance, the environment and much more. Ferguson told us that he'd learned quite a bit from Marx, but, in the event of a class war, he was on the side of the bourgeoisie.

There was a lot about Scotland. Ferguson thought that independence was likely eventually. It may well be thrust upon Scotland by England. It would probably be beneficial (eventually) by making Scots politicians responsible for raising cash as well as spending it. It won't all end in tears, but in yawns. In short, Scotland will have to learn to be like Denmark.

Chatting to him afterwards, he confirmed to me that he is in the camp of those of us who expect some kind of recession in the not-too-distant future.

(Nice "product placement" for Bulmers although Ferguson appeared to be having a pint of heavy.)