02 September 2014

Uncharted waters

Red Box has some questions to be answered, in the event of a YES:
  • Would Scottish MPs have any say in UK decisions in the months before the 2015 general election?
  • Would there be any point in MPs standing for election in Scotland in 2015 knowing they would be illegitimate within months?
  • Would the remainder of Britain have to hold a second general election in 2016 to take account of Scotland’s departure?
  • Would David Cameron, having lost the Union, feel obliged to resign?
  • Would Ed Miliband, if he had won narrowly in 2015 with Scottish help, feel obliged to call an election?
Yet answer came there none.

Myopia

The outcome of the latest polls, showing a diminishing gap between the yes and no sides, would suggest that the coalition government might be in the process of committing an egregious error.  The FT reports:
David Cameron’s official spokesman said on Monday that officials had no detailed plans on what would happen in the event of a surprise Yes vote.
“No such work (is being) undertaken,” the prime minister’s official spokesman told reporters when asked if the government had produced contingency plans for a Yes vote. “The government’s entire focus is on making the case for the UK staying together.”
So, just supposing that the yes campaign were to deliver the extra three percentage points required, the result in  Whitehall would be chaos:  a mad dash to pull together negotiating positions on the many issues requiring decision, with ongoing speculation about the future of the Prime Minister who lost the union.  It's not as if they can simply let the matter rest until after next May's general election.

 

Quote of the day

I see that, as usual, Mr Cameron is lurching forward on a wing and a prayer:
Cameron's toughest words were for Isis. Or rather, for any suspected Isis terrorists with UK passports. "This government does not believe in knee-jerk reactions," he began, before going on to say police were going to be given powers to confiscate passports from anyone they suspected of being a terrorist. He wasn't at all sure this was legal under international law and he was extremely hazy about the details when pressed by Ed Miliband, but he was still absolutely certain it was not a knee-jerk idea.
Will he ever learn?

   

01 September 2014

Getting carried away

Paul Mason has been taking the Glasgow temperature:
The most coherent of the young people I spoke to understood the macro-economic risk. But they weighed it against two increasingly intolerable burdens: the inability of Scotland's relatively left-leaning electorate to influence Westminster; and the inability to budge Scottish Labour away from the free-market and pro-austerity policies associated with Brown and Darling.
What this means is, even if the yes vote fails on 18 September, scoring somewhere in the mid 40s, the pattern of all future Scottish independence debates is set.
Independence has become a narrative of the people against big government; about an energised Scottish street, bar and nightclub versus the sleazy elite of official politics.
And from whence did he form such a conclusion?
Having spent last week in Glasgow, I would say the biggest variable is going to be turnout. When political enthusiasm reaches the relatively apolitical world of the council estate, the pub, the nightclub and energises people, turnout can do weird things to poll predictions. Alex Salmondclaimed there would be 80% turnout. I think the chances are even higher – and if the polls actually cope with such volume, every percentage point above normal introduces volatility not captured by normal polling.
At the Sub Club, a world-famous nightspot in Glasgow, the debate was remarkably coherent, even at 2am among the intoxicated smokers huddled outside. If I could distil the vox pops among those under-30s to a single thought it would be: "We want to run our own country."
Heaven preserve us from commentators who spend a week in Glasgow, visiting nightclubs at 2 am, and who think that they can discern the Scottish mind.

    

30 August 2014

Just a thought

So the government is to have a crackdown on those going off to fight in the Middle East:
Speaking at Downing Street after his return from a pre-referendum trip to Scotland, Cameron said: "It is becoming clear that there are some gaps in our armoury and we need to strengthen them. We need to do more to stop people travelling, to stop those who do go from returning and to deal decisively with those who are already here."
If Cameron had been Prime Minister in the 1930s, what would have been his attitude to those Brits (such as Orwell) who travelled to Spain to fight alongside communists and anarchists in the Spanish civil war?

 

26 August 2014

What happened to the Glorious Revolution?

This business of the appointment of next Clerk to the House of Commons.  Here is a brief summary of the position from The Telegraph:
Mr Bercow [the Speaker] wants to appoint Carol Mills, an Australian, to be Clerk. A lot of MPs, of all parties, think that’s a mistake, suggesting she’s not qualified. This has led to an impasse. Technically, it’s up to the Speaker, as chair of the Commons Commission, to propose a new clerk. That candidate is then put forward by the Prime Minister to the Queen for approval.
I have no strong views as to the merits or suitability of Ms Mills.  What I find amazing is the involvement of the Queen.  I appreciate that it may now be a formality.  Nevertheless, why should the Queen be even marginally involved in the appointment of the most senior official in the House of Commons?  Is the House of Commons independent of the monarchy or not?  How can the Commons hold the Executive to account when the titular head of the latter has to approve appointments to the former?


 

I used to be indecisive ...

... but now I'm not so sure.

Yes, I will shortly be departing this sun-kissed paradise - albeit temporarily - to embrace once again the doubtful pleasures of Auld Reekie in September.  And, perhaps, to cast my vote in the forthcoming referendum.  For indeed I still have sufficient ties to the dear old place to qualify for a place on the electoral roll.

But which way to vote?  And, prior to that, have I a moral right to vote?  Although I pay UK income tax on my pension and council tax in respect of my humble Edinburgh abode, I cannot deny that I am spending more and more time in sunny Spain.  So should I be permitted to throw in my tuppenceworth to the momentous decision, when the effect on me and mine will be limited?  Me, ah dinnae ken.

As for the vote itself, if I do exercise my voting rights, which way should I jump?  Sure enough, it's a sair fecht.

Could I bear to see the land of my birth subjected to another five years of Westminster rule by the Tories?  Increasing pressure on welfare services, cuts to public services across the board and the probability of a UK exit from the EU.  And, even if the Tories lose the general election next May, would life under Miliband be significantly better?  Furthermore, I have little faith in the UK parties' promises of additional devolution.  (Been here before, have we not?)

On the other hand, can I trust Scotia's future to Salmond and his henchmen?  Has he really thought matters through, on the currency, the EU membership and on Trident?  Or is his version of independence little more than toytown politics where London remains calling the shots?  And, while the quality of the members of the Scottish Parliament may on the whole be marginally better than their Westminster counterparts, do I really think that they are fit to run the country?

All very difficult.

   


25 August 2014

Choices, choices ...

On telly tonight.  Will I watch the football (Man City v Liverpool) or the Great Debate (Part II)?  Duty suggests the latter.  But, I could watch the football match live and then the debate on the i-player (assuming of course that it is indeed on the i-player).

Mind you, I wouldn't be surprised if both events turned out to be goalless draws ...

 

24 August 2014

Why football managers lack common sense

1.  Van Gaal of Man Utd bidding £60m for di Maria, an Argentinian winger

Obvious from last week's first match that Man Utd's desperate need is for a holding defensively-minded midfield player, not yet another attacker.

2.  Rodgers of Liverpool looking to sign Balotelli

How daft can you get?  Every centre-half in the Premier League will seek to wind him up.  And no doubt successfully ...

 
Update:  From The Observer (here):
Mourinho reckons his book of Balotelli anecdotes would stretch to 200 pages and the one he likes to tell the most is a belter. “We went to play Rubin Kazan in the Champions League. All my other strikers were injured. No Diego Milito, no Samuel Eto’o. I was really in trouble. Mario got a yellow card in the 42nd minute and when I got into the dressing room at half-time I spent 14 minutes of the 15 available speaking to Mario. I said to him: ‘Mario, I can’t change you, I have no strikers on the bench, don’t touch anybody and play only the ball. Mario, if someone provokes you, don’t react. If we lose the ball, no reaction. If the referee makes a mistake, no reaction.” A pause. “The 46th minute: red card.”

Poll tax on wheels

The Observer delves into the mysteries of rail privatisation:
The collapse of Railtrack in 2001 after the Hatfield disaster forced the creation of Network Rail, a not-for-dividend statutory corporation limited by guarantee, an elaborate organisational con to avoid the dread words "public company" and "nationalisation", even though it is 100% owned by the state. The de facto state backing has allowed it to run up borrowing of £30bn to finance rail investment, but at higher rates of interest than if it had been openly acknowledged that it was publicly owned. The cumulative extra servicing cost is more than £150m, but as the Office for National Statistics is now calling for the con to be ended and the debt reclassified as public debt, it's all for nothing. Brilliant.
Directly Operated Railways is the 100% publicly owned company that took over the east coast mainline when the incompetent private operator walked away from its obligations in 2009. Five years of public ownership and it is now the best run and most efficient operator, making a net surplus of £16m for the taxpayer. Its reward? To be sold back to a private operator next February that will redirect the surplus through a tax haven as dividends, game the Department for Transport for higher government support and walk away if the financial returns are not good enough. Thus the benefits of British-style private ownership in a public network. Meanwhile, the absurdities of privatisation continue. Two of the three companies that own the rolling stock leased to the train operating companies are owned in Jersey, the third is owned in Luxembourg. None shows any interest in supporting rolling stock manufacture in the country they so casually pillage. 
Crazy.

 

22 August 2014

Watch it and weep

Quote of the day

From an Englishman in The Independent (here):
Next they’ll say that an independent Scotland can’t use British clouds, so all rain will become the property of the Meteorological Office, turning Scotland into a desert overrun by wolves in 2018. Nor will they be allowed to keep the British religion, so the Holy Ghost will stop at Carlisle and everyone in Scotland will be forced to worship Zeus.
Yesterday Margaret Curran MP announced that another reason to vote No was that “an independent Scotland would lose access to some BBC programmes.” Is this the level of the debate as a nation decides its destiny? When Gandhi was fighting for the liberation of India did he tell his supporters, “Not only will we become a free and self-governing people, proud at last to determine our own future, but we’ll still be able to watch Homes Under the Hammer?”

  

20 August 2014

Research?

Hmmph!  So, allegedly, Kindle readers take in less than traditional book readers.  The Guardian reports:
The researchers suggest that "the haptic and tactile feedback of a Kindle does not provide the same support for mental reconstruction of a story as a print pocket book does".
"When you read on paper you can sense with your fingers a pile of pages on the left growing, and shrinking on the right," said Mangen. "You have the tactile sense of progress, in addition to the visual ... [The differences for Kindle readers] might have something to do with the fact that the fixity of a text on paper, and this very gradual unfolding of paper as you progress through a story, is some kind of sensory offload, supporting the visual sense of progress when you're reading. Perhaps this somehow aids the reader, providing more fixity and solidity to the reader's sense of unfolding and progress of the text, and hence the story."
Sounds a bit dodgy to me.  Where is the evidence?
The study, presented in Italy at a conference last month and set to be published as a paper, gave 50 readers the same short story by Elizabeth George to read. Half read the 28-page story on a Kindle, and half in a paperback, with readers then tested on aspects of the story including objects, characters and settings.
So the researchers are willing to draw conclusions on a single test based on a small sample of only 50 readers on one short story?  Not really serious, is it?

 

14 August 2014

Yo-yo monetary policies


One quarter, the signal is for higher interest rates; the next quarter, it's the opposite.  CityAM reports:
Sterling plunged to its lowest level in two months as governor Mark Carney spoke, with analysts suggesting that the Bank’s latest inflation report was backtracking from the governor’s more hawkish tones in June.
Societe Generale economists pushed back their forecast for the Bank’s first post-crisis interest rate hike, and now argued that the increase would not probably take place until early 2015. RBC Capital Markets added that market exp­ect­ations for the eventual tightening shifted three months to next April.
Carney’s comments at his Mansion House speech in June had the opposite effect – the governor indicated that rates could rise before markets expected.
Do you suppose that the Golden Boy knows what he is doing?

13 August 2014

Quote of the day

The Chief Foreign Correspondent of The Telegraph takes a firm line:
We should be willing to bear the costs and risks of military action alongside America in the cause of protecting the minorities of Iraq from the risk of extermination. To do otherwise would be to place our own phobias – our visceral reluctance to return to Iraq, our abhorrence of risk, and our new reluctance to use force even against the most implacable foe – above the moral case for action.
If you start with the question "what is right", then unless you are an outright pacifist, I submit that the answer is clear: the moral course is to use force to protect a minority from possible extirpation. If you accept that argument, then everything else falls into place.
I can readily see the attractions of such a firm stance.  But what would we be getting into?  Is there any real prospect of defeating Islamic State by dropping bombs on them?  Or of bringing them to the conference table?  Would we be taking on an open-ended commitment to defend the Yazidis and the Kurds?  For how long?  At what cost?  What would be the exit strategy?

I don't pretend to know the answers.  There are no easy choices.  But if we are to go beyond humanitarian aid, we need to have a much clearer idea of the strategy involved.

 

Been here before


Aye, well.  The Zoo is crying wolf again:
Following a sustained frenzy of pregnancy speculation on a scale that perhaps only the Duchess of Cambridge can relate to, Scotland's celebrated female giant panda, Tian Tian, is likely to give birth at the end of this month, Edinburgh zoo has announced.
The 10-year-old panda underwent artificial insemination in April after she and her male counterpart loaned to the zoo from China, Yang Guang, stubbornly declined to proceed as nature intended.
I hope that it is not too ungallant to suggest that the Countess of Strathearn (to give her Scottish title) is rather more reliable when it comes to moherhood.

 


12 August 2014

It's not fair

It's a tough old life, being an MP.  The Guardian reports:
Mark Simmonds, the Africa minister, said he would stand down from government immediately and would leave his Boston and Skegness seat at next year's general election.
He said that the rental allowance of £27,875 a year plus £2,500 for each of his three children would not be enough to maintain a family home in Westminster and that he would not be prepared to live outside central London.
Simmonds earns £89,435 a year as an MP and minister and employs his wife Lizbeth with up to £25,000 of public money.
His reasons for stepping down have been heavily criticised on Twitter and have exposed the differences in perception of many MPs – who believe that the expenses regime is penalising their ability to live normal family lives – and voters who still believe parliamentarians receive too much public money.
His resignation comes just days after Lady Warsi resigned from her Foreign Office post over the government's policy on the crisis in Gaza.
Simmonds said he was leaving primarily so he can spend time with his family because he cannot afford to house them in central London.
So, on top of his annual family income of £114,835, Mr Simmons would like the public purse to provide him with a family home in Central London.  Wouldn't we all ...?

 

07 August 2014

If the cap fits ...

The Guardian reports:
A top banker at Standard Chartered, which was warned on Wednesday that it was facing its second fine in two years for breaches of US rules, has complained that bankers are being treated "like criminals" when money laundering rules are broken.
I wonder why ...

 



06 August 2014

As others see us

From El Pais (here):
Fue un debate cuerpo a cuerpo del que aparentemente salió victorioso el no, aunque por los pelos. Alex Salmond, principal ministro de Escocia y defensor del  a la independencia y Alistair Darling, la cara del noescogida por el Gobierno británico para defender la permanencia en el Reino Unido, se batieron en duelo abierto frente a las cámaras de televisión escocesas por primera vez desde que se convocó el referéndum hace ya dos años.
Pero al finalizar el debate era difícil decir quién lo había ganado. No obstante, la primera encuesta, realizada por ICM entre 512 personas, situaba a Darling como ganador con un 56% de los televidentes de su parte frente a un 44% que le dio la victoria a Salmond. Y eso mismo parecían decir los tuits lanzados durante y tras el debate que duró una hora y media y en el que la economía fue la pieza clave. De hecho, el Gobierno británico hizo coincidir con el día del cara a cara su anuncio de nuevos poderes para los escoceses para recaudar impuestos y controlar de forma independiente la Seguridad Social.
A Darling le restó puntos el haber sido responsable del Tesoro británico durante la crisis de 2008, algo que Salmond se ocupó de recordarle al público. “Usted no tiene credibilidad. Usted era el responsable de las regulaciones financieras cuando los bancos colapsaron”, espetó al poco de iniciar el debate.

   
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Debate of the deaf?

For those of my readers unable to access the STV Player.  (Only the highlights)

05 August 2014

The Great Debate

Not taking it seriously enough -

http://www.theguardian.com/politics/shortcuts/2014/aug/04/scottish-independence-referendum-debate-drinking-game



Aw diddums ...

It's a tough life being a banker.  Here is Douglas Flint, Chairman of HSBC, complaining about all the regulation bankers have to put up with:
The demands now being placed on the human capital of the firm and on our operational and systems capabilities are unprecedented. The cumulative workload arising from a regulatory reform programme that is unfortunately increasingly fragmented, often extra-territorial, still evolving and still adding definition is hugely consumptive of resources that would otherwise be customer facing. Add to this recent obligations to perform highly granular multiple stress tests which are inconsistent in definition and scenarios between major jurisdictions and so require considerable duplication of effort; recently announced significant wholesale market practice and competition reviews in the UK; re-organising the financial, operational and structural framework of the Group to respond to evolving thinking on cross-border resolution protocols; and, finally, planning what will be a multi-year project to separate and establish the ring-fenced bank in the UK, and the dimension of the execution risk is obvious.
To be clear, we are committed and resourced to deliver all of the above. But there is extremely limited spare capacity. Prioritisation, which is clearly critical, will require support and guidance from public policy and regulatory bodies, particularly in the UK, regarding the juxtaposition of the recently announced competition review and preparation for the creation of the ring-fenced bank. Equally important is delivery of the stated intention of the Financial Stability Board and the G20 to seek to draw a close on fresh regulatory initiatives by the end of this year.
Doncha feel sorry for the poor lambs?  Of course, it might have been less necessary to impose all that regulation, had it not been for all their past misdeeds - such as rigging LIBOR rates and mis-selling insurance policies, not to mention their role in the Great Crash.  And was it not HSBC that acted as a banker for a Mexican drug cartel?  And now, today, more evidence has come to light on how HSBC may have failed to observe the law in relation to consumer credit agreements.

 

04 August 2014

Killjoy

Sour grapes from one writer in The Guardian:
Little-known sportspeople and those who cover them are fully entitled to enjoy the limelight. What quickly became tedious was the assertion that these Games offered an epic sporting event. They never do, regardless of the host.
This has generally been a party for the middle class. Which is fine, but people should know better than to supply an alternative, force-fed narrative.
Scotland has apparently become so impoverished as a sporting nation that the sight of any success at all is hailed beyond comprehension and context. At the time of writing, one able-bodied world record has been broken. Runners from Tonga and Gibraltar were lapped three times on the Hampden track. The men’s 1500m and marathon Commonwealth records have been in place since 1974; they aren’t isolated statistics.
This year’s medal table tells a story about the standard of the Games. There are more medals available than ever before, an important footnote to tales of national glory.
So the BBC went over the top - as per usual.  But by all accounts, the athletes enjoyed the Games and, certainly, the crowds did.  What's not to celebrate?

   


03 August 2014

Rumble in the jungle

McKenna in The Observer runs his rule over the participants in The Great TV Debate later this week.

First up, the Darling of the Noes:
Darling's only hope of matching his opponent (he will never better him) during this exchange and the second one to follow lies in disrupting the flow of debate. The former chancellor is a thoroughly insipid public speaker who engenders no passion or belief in what he is saying. His answers seem learned by rote and his continual blinking as he's delivering them makes him look unconvincing, like an understudy who's just been acquainted with the script owing to the leading man being incapacitated.
Is he really that bad?

Then there is the bold Alex:
Salmond's main challenge during this debate will not come from any deft touch or rapier thrust from his opponent. Rather, the biggest obstacle he must overcome is his own self-confidence and sense of self-satisfaction. If he does begin to eviscerate Darling early in the proceedings, he must avoid any showboating or mock-exasperation or that smirking thing that he does like the swot who knows the answer but lets the class bampots make eejits of themselves trying to answer first.
It's not difficult to descend from intellectually robust to mere rodomontade and sometimes Salmond does it, especially when he dismisses sentiments he doesn't like as "bluff and bluster".
I look forward to the mere rodomontade, whatever that is*.
   
* Boastful talk or behaviour

02 August 2014

Scottish weather forecast

Music of the week

"The boots just go back on
The socks that have stayed on"


Monkey business

The Guardian reports:
India's new government won an overwhelming mandate in the recent elections, and now it has taken on another parliamentary foe: marauding monkeys.
India's housing and urban development minister, Venkaiah Naidu, told MPs that 40 professional monkey impersonators would be deployed around government buildings to police the cheeky rhesus macaque monkeys who regularly trespass in the corridors of power, terrorising senior bureaucrats, stealing files and snatching food.
The human monkey scarers will disguise themselves as the macaque's natural nemesis, the larger, black-faced langur, Naidu said.
Insert your own joke about human monkey scarers at Westminster.

   

 

30 July 2014

What to do about bankers?

The Guardian has a solution:
For years, the country's most celebrated thinkers have struggled to come up with a way to keep those pesky bankers in check. Tighter regulation? That won't work. A reduction of annual bonuses? Unlikely to change anything. A root-and-branch overhaul of the entire system, including a quantifiable focus on ethics and more punitive measures for anyone who steps out of line? Nope.
But, finally, a solution has been found. A padlocked, bulletproof, triple-checked solution that's guaranteed to stop bankers from being reckless and self-interested: oaths. That's right, according to thinktank ResPublica, bankers should have to say an oath. Out loud, too, because ResPublica is not messing about.
Of course, they're not being serious.  But a little (or a lot) of jail time might fit the bill ...