31 March 2008

Prescription charges

I feel slightly guilty. From tomorrow, the cost of a prescription is reduced from £6.85 to £5.00. "Great!" you say. Socialists everywhere rejoice.

I still feel slightly guilty. You see, prescription charges are only payable by those who can afford them (and in some cases not even by them). If you are over 60, if you are under 16 or in full time education, you are exempt. If you (or your partner) are on benefits, you are exempt. If you are pregnant or have had a child in the last 12 months, you are exempt. 92% of precriptions in Scotland are issued free of charge.

So, at the risk of sounding ungrateful, could Ms Sturgeon not have found something more deserving to spend the health budget on?

Incidentally, for those like me who actually pay regular prescription charges, the big savings will arise not on the 37% reduction in the single prescription charge quoted above but on the 50% plus reductions in the pre-payment certificates (PPCs). A 4 month PPC is reduced from £35.85 to £17.00, while the 12 month PPC is reduced from £98.70 to £48.00. Thus, whereas at present you need to consume more than 5 prescriptions in 4 months to justify buying a 4 month PPC, in future you will only need to consume more than 3. The equivalent figures for a 12 month PPC are more than 14 prescriptions at present and more than 9 prescriptions in future.

Poverty of ambition

I can think of lots of good reasons why successfully learning to read is important. Neither of these would have occurred to me. The Herald reports:
Ms Brankin told the Scottish Labour conference in Aviemore: "If children cannot read, they cannot do modern studies, or read a manual on how to operate a lathe.

Is that the best that Labour can offer children with reading difficulties? Modern studies or lathe operation?

30 March 2008

Quote of the day

... well, of last Thursday actually.

From The Sunday Herald (here), Simon Pia (Wendy's spin doctor) on Alex Fergusson (Presiding Officer):
"Some say he's a big, thick Tory toff teuchter, but I don't think so."


29 March 2008

Quelle horreur!


I am a new woman. Avant, je was la petite friend of many, many rock stars, et renowned across la France as le vélo du village. But now, je suis la demure First Lady...

Carla's diary - well worth a read.

Red flag or white flag?

Resignation on the part of No 10? What happened to the fighting spirit? The Times reports:
Boris Johnson is on course to win the London mayoral election and run the capital in the four years of preparation before it hosts the next Games. Ken Livingstone, who lays claim to a share of the credit in helping London to secure the 2012 Olympics, looks likely to be among those watching and wondering how he lost.
The race is far from over but in Downing Street there is a weary anticipation that the incumbent will lose. “We know all the press cares about is London,” a close ally of Gordon Brown said last week of the local and mayoral elections on May 1. “And we know either we are going to lose or, at best, it is going to be very tight.”

To lose Scotland was careless; to lose Scotland and London would be unforgiveable. And what is it that McConnell and Livingstone have in common? Gordon Brown doesn't care for either.

28 March 2008

Credit where credit's due

This blog has never been a fan of Nicol Stephen, but I have to admit that he has developed an effective ability to skewer the First Minister at question time. He was at it again yesterday, this time on the matter of young offender escorts. You can watch it here.

Whereas Mr Salmond appears to shrug off attacks by Ms Alexander and Ms Goldie, it is increasingly apparent that Mr Stephen really gets under his skin - which only adds to the enjoyment of the uncommitted viewer.

No-one would pretend that a series of minor victories at question time would necessarily have a significant impact on the political terms of trade, but it is nice to see the First Minister being kebabbed occasionally.

26 March 2008

No, I don't understand it either

Overwatch : noun (military); manoeuvre whereby a well-equipped professional army of 4,000 troops sits on a fortified air-base while, in the city four miles down the road, its allies (which it had previously trained) are engaged in a bitter battle with an assortment of militias which that army had apparently left in charge of the city.

Strategic and tactical considerations underlying overwatch : beats me ... they might as well be sitting in the UK.

What's with the mother-in-law?

I appreciate that it's not intended to be a romantic mini-break, but why bring the wife's mother?

Under sniper fire

To mis-speak : verb, intransitive; to tell lies but somehow to convey the impression that the lies were totally inadvertent, while offering confirmation that the lie-teller is a human being.

25 March 2008


Hmmmph! It's all very well that young Macdonnell should complain in The Scotsman about the latest Euro-attack on Scottish mince but he rather spoils the purity of his argument:
There were fresh reports yesterday that the European Commission wants to drive through plans to restrict the hanging of Scotch beef that is then turned into mince.
This tale of Eurocrats challenging "our mince and tatties" goes back 18 years. The issue was first raised in 1990, then shelved, then resurrected two years ago, and now it seems to have surfaced again with reports that Europe does really mean to push it through this time.
At this point, I should declare an interest, having spent at least some of the Easter weekend enjoying a home-made lasagne that I lovingly prepared around a pound of prime Scottish beef mince.

Look, the meat sauce prepared for lasagne is not mince. The ragu contains all sorts of filthy foreign ingredients, like garlic, tomatoes, wine and herbs. You wouldn't put such things into proper mince. And the same applies to the ingredients for bolognese sauce or moussaka.

I sometimes worry that it falls to me alone to maintain Scottish cooking standards. The middle classes wish to subvert honest Scottish mince by dressing it up in Italianate clothing. Enough, I say: mince shall always be mince.

23 March 2008

An Easter wish

I wish ...

... that, the next time the big five banks seek to persuade the Governor of the Bank of England that they should be allowed to dip their greedy snouts into what is effectively the public purse, big Merv should attach the following conditions to any Bank of England support:

1. that it should be accompanied by a significant contribution from their combined profits (which, after all, amount to many £ billions);

2. that the banks should show a more caring attitude to their customers, particularly when it comes to charges for missed credit card repayments or occasional unauthorised overdrafts and that they cease ripping off their customers over the time taken to process cheques or bank transfers; and

3. that bank directors, employees and personal contractors should receive no more than £500,000 per year by way of salaries, bonuses, stock options and any other form of beneficial advantage.

Is that so unreasonable?

22 March 2008

Footballing headline of the day

From The Guardian (here):
Grant praises Cole for his maturity as criticism mounts
It's a bit like praising Alex Salmond for his humility.

21 March 2008

Anyway, where will they park their trident submarines?

From The Scotsman (here):
THE Scotland Office minister, David Cairns, warned last night that independence would "decimate" the country's defence industry. He told The Scotsman that the Westminster government would not be prepared to award lucrative contracts for military hardware to a "foreign country" if Scotland left the United Kingdom.
... Mr Cairns's warning came after he met defence industry leaders in Edinburgh and heard their concerns about the possible impact of independence. He had told a meeting of the Society of British Aerospace Companies (SBAC) Scotland that 40,000 defence jobs north of the Border depended on the Westminster government and that the Ministry of Defence spent £950 million a year in Scotland.
... Yesterday's meeting involved about 15 senior industry figures from companies such as Rolls-Royce, BAE Systems, Thales and Goodridge.

Mr Cairns may wish to note that Thales is a French company, while I rather suspect that Goodridge is American.

20 March 2008

How to make money on a falling stock exchange

Selling short. Sounds innocuous, doesn't it? The Scotsman explains how to sell shares that you don't actually have:

TAKE this example. A trader makes a contract to sell 100,000 shares of HBOS at Tuesday's closing price of 480.25p, with a view to buying them back at a lower price at a later date. The amount he stands to receive from the sale is £480,250. He then circulates rumours about the health of the company in a bid to drive down the price. In today's scary conditions – particularly in the wake of the collapse of US investment bank Bear Stearns – even the barest rumours without any supporting evidence can come to be believed. The price then falls – in the case of HBOS yesterday – to 398p. The trader then buys 100,000 shares at this price, for an outlay of £398,000. His profit is therefore £480,250 (the proceeds of sale) minus £398,000 (his purchase cost), which equals £82,250.
Short-selling – making money from shares whose value is falling – is legal in the stock market. What is a criminal offence is spreading rumours in a bid to drive down the price.
The stock exchange is different from a giant casino. Isn't it?

15 March 2008

Seeking attention

If he were a child, you might regard him as hyper-active. The BBC reports:
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair has called for a "global environment revolution" to tackle climate change.
Mr Blair is on a visit to Japan to discuss global greenhouse gas targets.
During his visit, organised by Climate Group, Mr Blair is due to meet climate change experts from China, Japan, Europe and the US.
He is attempting to guide attempts to secure a deal involving China and the US to slash emissions by 50% by 2050, on the first part of a trip that will also take him to China and India.
It is not enough to be a peace envoy to the Middle East. Flirting with the EU Presidency job was only fun for a while. And, clearly, commercial liaisons with Zurich Insurance and J P Morgan do not attract the limelight, while seminars at Yale University on faith and globalisation command only a little media attention.

This constant search for the spotlight does seem a bit needy, however, and perhaps a little desperate?

14 March 2008

An ulterior motive?

The Scotsman reports:
IRAN sought to ally itself with Scotland last night, praising Alex Salmond's administration for its anti-war stance and suggesting Tehran has more in common with Holyrood than Westminster.
Rasoul Movahedian, the ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Iran, told The Scotsman that Scotland and Iran shared "similar views" on many issues, such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and nuclear non-proliferation.And he said there was "fertile ground" for a stronger relationship with the controversial government of Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad."I think that Iran and Scotland enjoy similar views on many regional and international topics and issues," he said. "The views and the position of this present government of Scotland pleased many people in Iran and enabled us to make a distinction between Scotland and England.

Hey guys, no need to lay it on quite so thickly. We know that what you really really want is a game with our football team. Well, you better understand that Mr Salmond has no control over the mullahs at the SFA.

13 March 2008

Humble is as humble does

As resignation statements go, this one seems a little on the pompous side:
I look at my time as governor with a sense of what might have been, but I also know that as a public servant I, and the remarkable people with whom I worked, have accomplished a great deal. There is much more to be done, and I cannot allow my private failings to disrupt the people’s work. Over the course of my public life, I have insisted, I believe correctly, that people, regardless of their position or power, take responsibility for their conduct. I can and will ask no less of myself. For this reason, I am resigning from the office of governor ...
I go forward with the belief, as others have said, that as human beings, our greatest glory consists not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall. As I leave public life, I will first do what I need to do to help and heal myself and my family. Then I will try once again, outside of politics, to serve the common good and to move toward the ideals and solutions which I believe can build a future of hope and opportunity for us and for our children ...

In the circumstances, perhaps a little more humility might have been in order?

12 March 2008

Compare and contrast

MPs will have to submit receipts when they claim office expenses worth more than £25 per item, it was announced today.
The new rule will not cover food, where the system currently allows MPs to claim up to £400 a month without providing receipts to spend on food while they are away from home.


THE controversial scheme which helps some MSPs buy homes in the Scottish capital at the public's expense should be scrapped, a review body said yesterday.
MSPs from far-flung areas of the country should continue to be able to claim for renting flats or staying in hotels in Edinburgh – but not for paying mortgage interest. The recommendation came in the report of an independent review body set up to scrutinise MSPs' allowances. Several MSPs have bought houses using the scheme under current rules.
But Sir Alan Langlands, who led the review, said: "What's wrong with it is that I don't think it's a proper use of public money."

Has Nelson Mandela not suffered enough?

From The Times (here):
An all-star concert will be held in Hyde Park, Central London, to mark the 90th birthday of Nelson Mandela. Stevie Wonder, Sir Paul McCartney, Queen and
Bono are expected to perform at the event on June 27.

Just because Mr Mandela is getting on a bit, is that sufficient excuse to trot out a bunch of tired retreads?

We're not all hardworking, you know

I do not consider myself to be a fatcat. I do not live in a mansion in leafy Barnton (although I admit that my modest New Town flat offers a more than comfortable existence). Nevertheless, through diligence and good fortune, I have saved enough of a nest egg that I will never have to work again. As a result, I do not earn any income and therefore I pay no income tax.

At present, I contribute some £1400 per year to the City of Edinburgh Council by way of council tax. Under Mr Swinney's proposals for a local income tax, I would pay precisely nothing. I would therefore be better off to the tune of £1400 per year.

Is this fair? Of course not.

09 March 2008

Here we go again

If I were a Liberal Democrat, I would wish to be rather cautious about accepting this SNP proposition (as outlined in The Sunday Herald):
The SNP administration will this week publish a consultation on replacing council tax with a local charge based on ability to pay. Salmond will lay out plans for a nationally set 3p rate on all earned taxable income. But the LibDems, whose support Salmond needs to push through his scheme, want the rate to be set by councils rather than government Salmond and his finance minister John Swinney met LibDem leader Nicol Stephen and his deputy Tavish Scott on Thursday to discuss a compromise. The talks will continue tomorrow.
The SNP-LibDem summit discussed an idea whereby a centrally imposed 3p tax could be introduced in the short-term, after which councils would be given the power to vary the charge.

There is a big difference between a standard, across-the-board increase in income tax rates and a variable increase according to local authority area, particularly in terms of implementation. Nothing is simple when it comes to the administration of a local income tax. But imagine that you are a big employer based in Edinburgh: you should be able to cope with an instruction from the Inland Revenue to deduct an extra three pence in the £ from all employees residing in Scotland, and between them the Inland Revenue and the Scottish Executive should be able to work out how this can be distributed fairly to the local authorities. On the other hand, our big employer might find it rather more difficult to deal with an instruction that those of their employees residing in Edinburgh have to pay an extra 3 pence in the £, while those who commute from Fife have to pay an extra 2.8 pence in the £ and those from East Lothian an extra 2.5 pence in the £. Indeed, our big employer might find it impossible, not least because payroll systems are simply not set up to identify the local authority areas of those on the payroll. Meanwhile, the Inland Revenue might balk at attempting to keep track of the sums due to each local authority. (Of course, you could leave all the administration to the local authorities, but the problems do not go away.)

Accordingly, a two stage approach to the introduction of a local income tax might take rather longer than one might think.

08 March 2008

Pleased with itself?

The Scotsman almost desists from boasting that it brought down an Obama aide:

A SENIOR aide to Barack Obama resigned yesterday after an interview in The Scotsman in which she described Hillary Clinton as a "monster".
Mr Obama's campaign team apologised for the comments, which have given a boost to the former first lady in the bitter fight for the Democratic nomination for the White House. Samantha Power, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author who made the remark, said: "With deep regret, I am resigning from my role as an adviser to the Obama campaign. I made inexcusable remarks that are at marked variance from my oft-stated admiration for Senator Clinton and from the spirit, tenor and purpose of the Obama campaign. And I extend my deepest apologies to Senator Clinton, Senator Obama and the remarkable team I have worked with over these long 14 months." Earlier in the day, she had apologised after the Scotsman interview was picked up by American news networks and became the top item on websites, including the Drudge Report.

04 March 2008


Well, big deal! The BBC reports:
The Highlands and Islands are to get a louder voice on a body which helps shape Scotland's economic future, First Minister Alex Salmond has said.
Mr Salmond was announcing moves to strengthen the region's representation by creating two more seats on the National Economic Forum.
He announced the move when the Convention of the Highlands and Islands held its latest meeting in Shetland.

At least when Labour and the Libdems were running the show, Ministers were prepared to put their hands in their pockets and pull out some cash.

British values

Once upon a time, the Labour Party would have bitterly attacked this kind of rip-off. Now, it just stands by, meekly muttering that nothing should be done to upset its pals in the city. The Guardian reports:
Billions of pounds of private finance initiative projects approved by Gordon Brown, including the refurbished Treasury headquarters in Whitehall and the new Home Office, have been moved offshore by their City owners to avoid paying tax on their profits.
More than 50 PFI schemes have now been included in portfolios held in Channel Islands tax havens by three major PFI investment companies, HSBC Infrastructure, 3i Infrastructure and Babcock and Brown Public Partnerships.
Once the buildings have been completed, up to 90% of the ownership of the UK-registered company running the PFI is transferred to the companies which are based in the tax havens. This means that the income and profits from running the PFIs will be free of UK tax for up to 40 years, depending on the duration of the PFI.

The government should be ashamed of themselves.

03 March 2008

Quote of the day

Some welcome common sense from Jackie Ashley in The Guardian on the subject of forcing the non-doms to flee to their tax-free boltholes outside the UK:
"Actually I doubt that Britain would be worse off if the Porsche dealers, £500-a-bottle restaurants and decorators of modernist palazzos had a harder time for a while. The swaggering of the super-rich has hit the morale and self-belief of more essential people, not just at the bottom of the heap, but the public-sector professionals we rely on. They used to say nothing was certain bar death and taxes. Now you know that for one self-important group, it's no longer so. If they really want to sit bored out of their skulls in a tax haven, let them."