01 October 2014

The economics of war

War has always been an expensive business.  Here is an account of the RAF's operation yesterday:
“In the course of an armed reconnaissance mission from RAF Akrotiri, two Tornados were tasked to assist Kurdish troops in north-west Iraq who were under attack from Isil (Isis) terrorists”, the MoD said in a statement.
It said the RAF patrol identified an Isis heavy weapon position that was attacking Kurdish ground forces.
A Paveway IV guided bomb was used to attack the Isis position. The Tornado patrol subsequently identified an Isis armed pick-up truck in the same area and conducted an attack on the vehicle using a Brimstone missile.
According to this website, the cost of a Paveway bomb is £22,000, while that of a Brimstone missile is £100,000.  Is it value for money to spend £122,000 in order to destroy a heavy machjne gun and a pick-up truck?  And that is before you add in the cost of the flights at £35,000 per Tornado per hour.  To put it another way, every time a pair of Tornados fly a sortie of about six hours the taxpayer is spending £420,000 before taking account of any bombs and missiles.  A campaign lasting two or three years might become extremely expensive.

30 September 2014

Quote of the day

From The Guardian (here):
Osborne has always been too spectral and aloof a presence for the Tories to love him and as he outlined his plans, it began to dawn on them they had been right to be wary. If the message from the Labour conference had been that Miliband was on the side of incompetence, the message from Osborne was the Tories would be fighting the election as the party of hard bastards.

   

28 September 2014

Music of the week

Tramps like us:


The Andalucian Desert

Ah yes, climate change.  The Observer goes big on how Alaska will become the new Florida,  But what about my modest hidey-hole on the Costa del Sol?  Here is the answer:
As Europe continues to heat up, energy demands are expected to drop in northern countries, but equally they are destined to soar around the Mediterranean and in the south where there will be a desperate need for cooling and air-conditioning that will drive up power costs.
By the middle of the century, forest fires and severe heatwaves will be increasingly common while crops will be devastated and vineyards will be scorched.
Similarly, in the Alps, lack of snow and melting ice will make skiing, walking and climbing far less enticing for tourists. So if you are planning to cash in that little nest egg you have been nurturing to buy a retreat on the continent, think very carefully which part of Europe you pick. By this reckoning, Norway looks a good bet, as does Scotland.

Not a happy thought.  Mind you, as I write this post, thunder is rolling round the skies and the rain is chucking down.  Nevertheless, we must expect the Sahara to move northwards.  And it is little consolation to realise that by 2020 I will have reached my allotted span of three score and ten.


   

27 September 2014

Deja vu again


Once more, the West's warplanes are flying over Iraq.  As ever, we are presented with a choice of black or white: the do nothing option or the use of armed force.  Far from clear that the spectrum of other options has been exhausted.

As for the war aims, is there an acceptable achievable outcome?  Or an exit strategy?  The Guardian records:
Air power alone seldom results in a comprehensive victory. Over the last few weeks, all the US air strikes have succeeded in doing is largely stopping the expansion of Isis. Apart from the vital Mosul dam – which Kurdish and Iraqi army forces retook with help from US planes – Isis basically still holds the same territory as it did at the start of US bombing.
In the end, defeat of Isis requires troops on the ground. Neither the US nor Britain wants to put combat troops back into Iraq, so they are relying on the Kurdish peshmerga and the Iraqi army to do the fighting on the ground – neither of which has shown any sign that they are capable.
   

26 September 2014

Silly money

Daft as a brush:
Manchester United will have to pay at least £140m to bring Cristiano Ronaldo back to Old Trafford with Real Madrid reportedly ready to cash in on a move that will also alert Chelsea, Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain, and other European heavyweights.
It is understood that around 18 months ago Ronaldo and his advisors spoke to the majority of Europe’s blue riband clubs regarding potentially leaving Real. In the event he signed a fresh deal last September with the Spanish giants that made him the world’s highest paid footballer.
Ronaldo earns €21m a year, which is £16.4m or £315,384 a week, with Real paying all of his 52% tax. He costs the Spanish club £34.1m a season. Given his pay equates to £693,844 gross under the UK’s 45% tax bracket for high earners, Ronaldo would have to agree a sizeable pay cut on his basic terms if he were to return to United.
United could further boost his take-home pay by offering him a lucrative image rights deal and other sizeable commercial incentives beyond the normal bonuses awarded for successful on-field performance.
It would make more sense (and cost a lot less) to buy a decent centre-half.

Motes and beams

Extraordinary report in The Guardian revealing the BBC's attitude to its listeners:
The editor of BBC Radio 4’s Today has said the programme needs to find new ways of covering “bad foreign news” stories after the summer of conflicts in Ukraine, Syria and Gaza proved a turn-off with listeners.
Jamie Angus said some listeners had stopped tuning in to Today and had told him they could not take any more of “this terrible thing that I can’t influence”. This follows a period when the news has been dominated by the escalating civil war in Ukraine, with the threat of Russia and Nato being drawn into a wider conflict, the Israeli assault on Gaza, and most recently the rise of Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.
The difficulty in getting BBC journalists in to the conflict zones, he added, resulted in “a lot of argumentative phone interviews with angry people on either side”, which also proved a turn off.
Angus, a former acting editor of Newsnight who has been in charge of Today for a year, said the programme would not stop covering foreign news but had to investigate different ways of doing it at a time when BBC News has faced across the board cuts in funding.
“The confluence of Gaza and the Ukraine over the summer was a difficult listen for audiences,” Angus told a Broadcasting Press Guild lunch on Thursday, adding that the conflict in Syria posed similar problems journalistically.
“There was a burst of rather difficult foreign news and a lot of listeners who stopped listening said they stopped because of the preponderance of really difficult and distressing foreign news.

So, it is all the fault of the listeners; the news is just too difficult for them.  Nothing to do with supercilioua presenters, incompetent interviewers or patronising editors.


22 September 2014

Bad investment

As Brenda Kelly of IG notes:  Tesco, Mess co:


Story here.

And there goes another of my investments down the tube ...

   

"She stood on the bridge at midnight"

So, let me get this straight.

The EU, in the form of the European Banking Authority (EBA) banned the payment of bonuses to banking staff amounting to over 100% of salary (except in special circumstances).  The banks got around this by paying a form of allowance (in addition to the 100% bonus) to keep their bankers happy.  Accordingly, the EBA is now proposing to ban these additional allowances.

A fairly logical consequence, you might have thought.  But the bankers are up in arms.  It is not enough that they receive a bonus of 100% on top of their generous salaries.  And, guess what, the Treasury and George Osborne agree with the bankers.

Crazy old world.

   

21 September 2014

Trying to make sense

Lots of stuff in the newspapers this morning about the implications of the No decision and the promises of further devolution.  It seems to me that there are (at least) three strands in the swirling world of controversy.

First, the promised increase in powers for the Scottish Parliament.  Although the parties differ in the detail of what they have proposed, it should not be impossible to come to an acceptable compromise within the timetable set out by the Clunking Fist and endorsed (apparently) by the three Westminster party leaders.  But Cameron's cynical attempt to link developments on this front with those on English devolution in terms of the timetable throws the matter into considerable doubt.

Second, the West Lothian Question where Cameron seeks to deprive Scottish (and Welsh and Northern Ireland) MPs of the ability to vote in the Commons on English domestic matters.  There are all sorts of problems with this, notably for the Labour Party.  And although the Tories may not admit it, it is to nobody's benefit if an elected UK government were unable to legislate on domestic English matters.  Nevertheless, the concept of English votes for English affairs has a superficial attraction on the voter's doorstep; and UKIP is ready to jump in with simplistic solutions.  I cannot see the shape of an acceptable compromise in any foreseeable timescale.

Third, the issue of wider devolution to English regions/local authorities.  The Labour Party seems prepared to consider this in the context of a constitutional convention meeting over the next 12 or so months.  The Tories seem less keen.  But viewed from afar, there appears to be a groundswell of English opinion that something needs to be done, even if that opinion is divided among calls for regional assemblies and appeals for greater responsibility for local authorities (or something in between).  Again, there seems little prospect of agreeing a destination within the next few months.

Finally, all of these potential discussions will be overlaid with the imminent General Election next May.  Not the sort of time period for constructive debate among the Westminster parties.

Hey, we live in interesting times ...

   

20 September 2014

Quote of the day

From The Independent (here):
When Cameron joined the other party leaders in making his “vows” to the Scottish voters, he did not add that they would only get their powers as part of a package for England.
Cameron has every right to raise the England question, but to incorporate his proposed solution into precisely the same timetable for Scotland is a very big addition to the original vow. For the Scots, it is the equivalent of buying a house only to discover the deal will go ahead when a blazing row over planning permission nearby is resolved at the same time.

   

19 September 2014

So farewell Alex

Like him or loathe him, his place in history is secure.  And his decision to resign as SNP leader and First Minister can only enhance the lustre which will be associated with his career.  Against all the odds, he led his party to outright victory in a Scottish General Election, a task thought to be impossible.  And then he fought a glorious if unsuccessful campaign for independence, a campaign that panicked Westminster and aroused the Scottish community to unheard-of heights of political participation.

It is at times like these that we should remember that politicians are only human.  The daily struggles inflict a severe toll.  Mr Salmond deserves some time to himself.  A time to reflect, a time to enjoy life.

If all political careers end in failure, Mr Salmond may content himself with the thought that at least he had a damn good try at success.

   

Who is Lord Smith?

Baron Smith of Kelvin, Knight of the Order of the Thistle, is to oversee the implementation of the new devolution arrangements for Scotland.

Originally a banker (score one against him), Lord Smith has a number of irons currently in the fire.  He is the Chairman of Scottish and Southern Energy (score two) and of the British Green Investment Bank.  Also the Patron of Foundation Scotland.  And he used to be the Chair of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games organising company.

Now 70 years old, you might have thought he was pushing on a bit for his new role.  But, hey, the Great and the Good go on forever.

Oh, and he and his missus own the island of Inchmarnock in the Firth of Clyde.

 

Here we go again

Ah yes, the English Question.  It used to be known as the West Lothian Question.  Nobody ever found an answer.

If Scottish MPs are excluded from voting on English matters, it gives rise to the possibility that a government could command a Commons majority on UK affairs while being unable to put through domestic English legislation.  Result: instability.

In reality, there are only two real solutions.  One, go the whole hog and establish an English Partliament and an English government, separate from the UK Parliament and the UK Government. Two, stop asking the bloody question.

 

18 September 2014

Quote of the day (2)

From Fraser Nelson of The Spectator (here):
 If it’s a ‘yes’ result tomorrow, then it will be the result of of first-class politics from the separatists and first-class incompetence from the unionists.
It is often said that Westminster has been captured by a professional political class. This Scottish campaign has shown how amateurish these professionals can be.

   

Quote of the day

The Guardian interviewing voters (here):
A man in a van said he was “nervous if it goes the wrong way. My wife says she’s back off down to England if it’s a no.” He paused. “I’m no’ sure if that’s a good or a bad thing. But I’ll miss her.” 

   

Still indecisive

Well I have done my duty and cast my ballot.  I hope that I have done the right thing.

Lunch yesterday with some old chums in a swanky French restaurant.  Not surprisingly, being of a certain age and utterly representative of the Edinburgh bourgeoisie, they were No voters to a man (there were no women).  What I did not expect was the vehemence with which they held their views: not a shadow of doubt, not a scintilla of hesitation.

Call me a wimp if you must, but I found it difficult to make a choice.  Far from sure that certainty is a good thing.  Whatever the result, we will have to live with each other.  (Except for me - I bugger off back to Spain next week.)

   

Yes or No?

Phil Ochs said it best:
Oh, the shadows of doubt are in many a mind
Lookin' for an answer they're never gonna find
But they'd better decide 'cause they're runnin' out of time
For these are the days of decision
Oh, the games of stalling you cannot afford
Dark is the danger that's knocking on the door
And the far reaching rockets say you can't wait anymore
For these are the days of decision
In the face of the people who know they're gonna win
There's a strength that's greater than the power of the wind
And you can't stand around when the ice is growing thin
For these are the days of decision
I've seen your heads hinding 'neath the blankets of fear
When the paths they are plain and the choices are clear
But with each passing day, boys, the cost is more dear
For these are the days of decision


  

17 September 2014

Just the start

From The Telegraph blogs (here):
Cameron is not smart. He thinks he is smart. So, lazily, he went for an all out gamble, Yes or No – which he might well lose, as things stand. And he did that because he was arrogantly confident that he would win. Cameron is inept on a fundamental level. He is an old Etonian, born to govern, unhappily devoid of the basic skills of governance, and politics.
...And on to Ed Miliband. ... the truth is Miliband is a gormless muppet more suited to running a Montessori nursery than an ancient nation.
No doubt, there will be more criticism to follow on Friday, whatever the result.

   

Picture of the day


h/t Paul

16 September 2014

Music of the week

Hard to believe that this was released 49 years ago.  Seems like Yesterday ...


Quote of the day

Rachel Sylvester in The Times (reproduced here):
Only in the past two weeks has Mr Cameron focused on Scotland after a poll showing the Yes camp ahead made him realise that he might be about to become the prime minister who presided over the break-up of the United Kingdom. Once he understood quite how high the stakes had become, he panicked, cancelling prime minister’s questions to rush north and talk about how heart-broken he would be by separation, while promising new powers if the Scots agreed to stay.
None of this had been properly thought through. Tory MPs predict a huge rebellion if legislation is introduced to give greater powers to Scotland without also devolving rights to England. “Even if there’s a ‘no’ vote, Cameron has ended up giving away the keys to the kingdom on the basis of one opinion poll,” says a senior backbencher. “That is just wrong. The whole attitude has been ‘let’s get through today and worry about the details later’.”
Twas ever thus ...  

 


Notes to Treasury

I don't understand this (from here in The Independent):

Britain’s banks have been quietly moving millions of banknotes north of the border to cope with any surge in demand by Scots to withdraw cash in the event of a Yes vote in Thursday's independence referendum, it has emerged.
Sources told The Independent the moves have been taking place over the past week or so in order to make sure ATMs do not run out on Friday in the event of a panic reaction to a “yes” vote. There have been some suggestions that people will want to move their money to English banks in the event of an independence vote.
The overwhelming majority of ATMs in Scotland spit out Scottish banknotes (if you ask them nicely).  If there is a Yes win, what would be the point in stocking up with such notes?

Hostage to fortune

The FT reports:
Mr Cameron, Labour leader Ed Miliband and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg signed a joint pledge in the Daily Record saying that the Scottish parliament was “permanent” and that the so-called Barnett formula – which gives Scotland higher per capita funding for public services than England – would continue.
I would be extremely surprised if the continuation of the Barnett formula (whereby percentage increases in English public spending automatically result in increases in Scottish comparable spending) is met with approval by the little Englanders.  It has long been a bone of contention that Scotland does excessively well out of the current public spending arrangements (whether justified or not).

There will be a backlash.  Then we will find out if Cameron has a spine.

   

15 September 2014

Was Wayne Rooney not available?

So David Beckham is supporting the No campaign.  That will really go down well with the punters.

If I were Mr Darling (which thank the Lord I'm not, sir), I would be in despair at such stupidity ...

   

14 September 2014

Is it all over?


An opinion poll in The Observer has the No campaign ahead by 53% to 47% (excluding don't knows).

If that proves to be the result, it may be significantly less than the Yes campaign would have wished for.  But the nationalists can console themselves with the thought that they had the UK authorities seriously worried for a while and that support for independence turned out to be far greater than many people thought when the referendum was first agreed.  They may also prepare themselves for another go at the question in a few years time when (with experience of dealing with devo plus) they will be better able to address the big questions of the currency and EU membership.

Meanwhile the UK parties have to implement their promises of devo-plus.  I would not describe it as devo-max because it is not entirely clear what they have signed up to, particularly but not exclusively in relation to English devolution.  Nevertheless, something will have to be done, not least because unfulfilled promises would lead to a refusal on the part of the electorate to ever believe them again and to a hastening of another independence referendum.  Some of their backbenchers, however, in all parties, may be less than happy about increasing the influence of non-Westminster institutions with the inevitable reduction of powers for the UK Parliament.

But I am skipping ahead of myself.  Let us see what Friday morning brings.

   

10 September 2014

Quote of the day

George Monbiot puts the boot into my former boss, Brian Wilson:
“A UK without Scotland would be much less likely to elect any government of a progressive hue,” former Labour minister Brian Wilson claimed in the Guardian last week. We must combine against the “forces of privilege and reaction” (as he lines up with the Conservatives, Ukip, the Lib Dems, the banks, the corporations, almost all the rightwing columnists in Britain, and every UK newspaper except the Sunday Herald) – in the cause of “solidarity”
There’s another New Labour weasel word to add to its lexicon (other examples include reform, which now means privatisation; and partnership, which means selling out to big business). Once solidarity meant making common cause with the exploited, the underpaid, the excluded. Now, to these cyborgs in suits, it means keeping faith with the banks, the corporate press, cuts, a tollbooth economy and market fundamentalism.
Here, to Wilson and his fellow flinchers, is what solidarity meant while they were in office. It meant voting for the Iraq war, for Trident, for identity cards, for 3,500 new criminal offences, including the criminalisation of most forms of peaceful protest. It meant being drafted in as political mercenaries to impose on the English policies to which the Scots were not subject, such as university top-up fees and foundation hospitals. It meant supporting every destructive and unjust proposition advanced by their leaders: the brood parasites who hatched in the Labour nest then flicked its dearest principles over the edge. It’s no surprise that the more the Scots see of their former Labour ministers, the more inclined they are to vote for independence.
Brutal, but justified?

 

What is Theresa May thinking of?

Arrived back at Edinburgh airport to have my passport checked by the black-shirted stormtroopers of the Border Force.  Do they really have to dress up like the SS?

 

09 September 2014

Home again

David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband are combining forces and heading to Scotland tomorrow to make the case for the UK.

Me too.  On the 07.15 plane.  Not to make the case for the UK.  But to see some old chums, to renew contact with the relations and to have a fish supper from the Alba d'Oro.  I've packed my winter woollies.

So no posts tomorrow morning.
   

A psychotherapist speaks

From The Guardian (here):
Perry says you can tell that Scotland and RUK are in the midst of a communication breakdown by looking at the behaviour of the prime minister. “The spouse who’s about to be left comes up with all sorts of, ‘I’ll be better ...’” she says. “That’s what David Cameron’s doing now.” (Scotland, no one will ever love you like we do.)
... if the yes vote wins, how should people either side of the border cope with the feeling of abandonment?
“Once it happens,” says Perry, “it’s not as bad as you thought.” (Scotland, we’ll get over it.)
Oh dear.

   

   

Getting over-excited

Shock!  Horror!  The Guardian reports:
Billions of pounds were wiped off the value of companies with Scottish links and the pound was pummelled as markets took fright at the increasing prospect of Scotland voting next week to break away from the United Kingdom.
Investors on Monday dumped companies with exposure to Scotland, including the Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Banking Group, which owns Bank of Scotland.
They also ditched sterling, which at one point fell to its lowest level against the dollar for 10 months.
"Be afraid, be very afraid," Deutsche Bank analysts warned its clients after the Sunday Times YouGov poll had showed a small lead for the yes campaign.

Actually, the RBS share price fell by 1.3% to 342.5 pence.  This is far from welcome, but it is not uncommon.  As may be seen from the following graph, there have been many days over the past 12 months when the RBS share price was lower than 342.5 pence, sometimes much lower.


Indeed, only a month ago, the price was below 340 pence.

Much the same could be said of Lloyds, whose share price yesterday fell by 2.43% to 72,2 pence.


The point is that share prices go up and down all the time.  And it is foolish to read too much into the movement on any single day, especially when that movement is within the normal bounds of variation.

Furthermore, there were plenty of non-Scottish FTSE-100 companies whose share prices yesterday fell by greater percentages than the two illustrated above.

So don't panic,  Yet.


Update

As at 08.27 (BST), the RBS share price has risen to 345 pence, while that of Lloyds has risen to 73.5 pence.




08 September 2014

Conversation of the week

Her Maj entertains Cameron at Balmoral (here):
"You do know you will go down in history as the prime minister who lost the union," the Queen continued.
"Indeed. I am aware of that, ma'am."
"Well, what do you intend to do about it?"
"I'm not really sure there's much I can do."
"Then you'd better come up with something quickly. One will not be pleased if Scawtland goes feral."
"I suppose I could start by coming to the Braemar games with you, ma'am."
"I don't think that's a very good idea."
"How about a spot of fishing on the Dee?"
"I suggest you do rather more than that. The royal family has done its bit by instructing Kate to get pregnant again and I can promise you the Scawts will only ever get to see the baby in the pages of Hello! if they don't vote the right way. So just bugger awf back to Westminster. If you don't get this sorted in the next 10 days, you won't be coming back here next year."
"And neither, ma'am, will you."




Number of the day

From Red Box (here):
20
Centimetres: decline in the average annual rainfall of the new UK if Scotland becomes independent

   
As they say, it's an ill wind that blaws naebody any guid ...

London has woken up

I make it that this morning's Guardian has no fewer than nine articles on the subject of Scottish independence:
scottish-independence-westminster-no-campaign-last-stand
scottish-independence-ten-days-to-go-vote-uk
what-would-independence-mean-for-scotland-economy
scottish-independence-tactics-quebec
better-together-campaign-scottish-independence-vote
scottish-independence-devolution-england
martin-rowson-cartoon-scottish-independence-uk-david-cameron
scotland-decides-union-tories
guardian-view-on-scottish-independence-referendum
So, I reckon we now have their attention ...

 


07 September 2014

Together

A bit late

As independence looks increasingly likely, the No campaign looks for a game-changer.  The Observer reports:
The people of Scotland are to be offered a historic opportunity to devise a federal future for their country before next year's general election, it emerged on Saturday night, as a shock new poll gave the campaign for independence a narrow lead for the first time.
Amid signs of panic and recrimination among unionist ranks about the prospects of a yes vote on 18 September, the Observer has learned that a devolution announcement designed to halt the nationalist bandwagon is due to be made within days by the anti-independence camp.
The plan, in the event of a no vote, is that people from all parts of Scottish society – rather than just politicians – would be invited to take part in a Scottish conference or convention that would decide on further large-scale transfers of power from London to Holyrood.
If they had thought to make such an offer a year ago - or even six months ago - it might have made a difference.  But, now, it merely reinforces the impression that Westminster will only make grudging concessions when its back is against the wall.

 

06 September 2014

The airline business



h/t Paul

Common sense beginning to surface?

This would appear to be a sensible assessment.  What is surprising is that it has taken so long to get to this point.
But there's an interesting question about how the Bank of England and the big Scottish banks would react on 19 September if the result is "yes". Governor Mark Carney said a fortnight ago that there are contingency plans in place, but understandably declined to discuss them.
Step one, though, seems obvious: loud assurances to depositors that there is no reason whatsoever to withdraw money from Scottish banks, coupled with a reminder that Threadneedle Street remains responsible for financial stability across the whole of the UK right up until the moment of separation, which would be 2016 at the earliest.
As for Scottish banks themselves, their first response to a yes vote is equally clear.Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds would have to declare that they will move their registered offices from Edinburgh to London as soon as they can get approval from the courts.
The assets of the big two banks are 12 times as large as Scottish GDP, so there is no chance of an independent Scotland being able to act as a lender of last resort in a crisis.If there is doubt on the point, markets will jump on it and the banks' funding costs would soar.
Whether a move of a registered office is merely a shift of a brass-plate, or would herald an on-the-ground exodus from Edinburgh's financial centre, is a debate in itself.Either way though, RBS, Lloyds and TSB would have to say within hours of a yes vote that, legally, they can't be Scottish.
Sad to see the loss of the Scottish banks, but probably inevitable.  And it means that an independent Scottish government would not have to cope with such a major imbalance in its economy.