31 August 2011

A mendicant nation?

O Lord, protect us from the wrath of expatriate Scots. Here is the ubiquitous McTernan, writing in The Telegraph:

This is the first dirty secret of Scottish politics: that Scotland is doing very well, thank you. When it comes to public spending, it is a mendicant nation, always looking for more. Yet before the credit crunch, Scotland had enjoyed unbroken economic growth since 1980. Yes, there was mass unemployment as old industries closed, but new strengths emerged in banking, biosciences, computer games and energy, whether oil, gas or wind. You wouldn’t know it from the way that Scottish politicians – of all parties – talk, nor from the behaviour of successive British governments.

Of course, the fault here lies as much in Westminster as Holyrood. Ministers in London have been transfixed by Scotland for the past quarter of a century, terrified of getting it wrong. Tory governments mollycoddled the Scots, out of fear of unpopularity. Labour, all too aware of where its electoral support came from, did the same. This wasn’t leading, but following. The normal rules of politics, of making a case or challenging your opponents’ arguments, were suspended. Instead, what Scotland wanted, it eventually got.

I don't recall him writing similar stuff for The Scotsman. But then, after all, he was a political apparatchik ...

30 August 2011

Funny money

The Mail indulges itself with the usual song and dance:
The gulf in state spending between Scotland and England has hit a record £1,600 per head.

Government spending in Scotland averaged £10,212 per person last year, £1,624 per head more than in England.
And, as usual, they omit to mention that state spending in London on a comparable basis is more than in Scotland, as it reaches £10,256 per head. (See table 9.4 here)

26 August 2011


I can't wait ...

(Hat-tip to Ed)

The tram

Well, I have to admit that the final (?) outcome is not all that good.

But if it makes any difference, I would be prepared to take a wee jaunt once or twice a year to see the west side of Edinburgh - provided of course I could use my bus pass. But I don't suppose that it would make much of a contribution to mitigating the annual loss of £4 million.

They say that we get the politicians we deserve. What did the Edinburgh burghers do that was so wrong?

Unfair, I know

This post is intended to drive some of my former colleagues potty, especially those who had to deal with Scottish Enterprise, as indeed I did, for a while.

From The Scotsman (here):
A look at SE's top table...

1 Lena Wilson, chief executive, £200,000

2 Paul Lewis, MD sectors and commercialisation, £127,000

3 Anne MacColl, SDI chief executive £100,000 salary plus £72,000 in "benefits" including £56,039 relocation package

4 Linda McDowall, business network and communications director, £112,000

5 Jim McFarlane, MD growth, innovation, infrastructure and investment, £138,000
Rather disproves the old adage about peanuts and monkeys.

25 August 2011

Storm in a teacup

Hey, biscuits are important. My sympathies are with Sir Fred. How would you feel if you were expecting a chocolate hobnob but only received a rich tea (or a pink wafer in the case in question)?

Admittedly, it might appear somewhat draconian to threaten disciplinary action, but when you're the boss of a multi-million pound empire, is it unreasonable to insist on your chocolate hobnobs?

I'm a plain digestive man, myself. Or something.

24 August 2011

Meaningless statistics

The economic gloom deepens. The Independent reports:
Anxiety will be increased by a survey published today showing that fewer than half of Britain's 11 million low to middle-income earners have any money left over at the end of the month – another blow to hopes that the economy will pick up after the 0.2 per cent growth seen between April and June.
Yes, it's another pointless survey:

Research by Ipsos Mori for the Resolution Foundation think tank found that 48 per cent of people in low to middle-income households – defined as having a gross income of between £12,000 and £48,000 a year – have any cash left over at the end of each month. This is compared with 66 per cent among higher-income households.

Fewer than three in 10 (27 per cent) of low to middle-earners make any monthly savings, compared with 47 per cent of those on higher incomes.

Now you might wonder about the 52% of low to middle income households who do - even in today's harsh climate - have cash to spare at the end of the month. And equally about the 34% of households earning over £48,000 who don't.

But the poll is essentially meaningless without some historical context. It does not tell us if (or by how much) the situation has deteriorated by comparison with more beneficial times. So there is little point in becoming anxious about it.

18 August 2011

Footie again

Admittedly, my footballing allegiance lies nearer Easter Road rather than Gorgie. But can Hearts fans put their trust in a manager who - apparently - has only one-third of the necessary eyebrow equipment?

16 August 2011

Oh woe ...

The bad news:

The German economy has come to a near-standstill in the last quarter as the global slowdown hit Europe's biggest player.

In the latest blow to the eurozone, Germany grew by just 0.1% between April and June. Economists had expected growth of 0.5% during the quarter. Germany's Federal Statistics also revised down the growth in the first quarter of 2011, to 1.3% from its initial estimate of 1.5%.

The good news:
The most rapid growth was recorded by Latvia with a 2.2% increase in GDP during the second quarter of 2011.
Well, bully for Latvia!


Deux langues étrangères? Chapeaux, messieurs! Le Herald nous dit:
The Scottish Government has announced ambitious plans to teach all primary pupils at least two modern languages.

In the week pupils return to school after the holidays, ministers are to announce they are setting up a working group to discuss how to meet the target.

The working group will look at the role of employers, universities and parents in promoting languages, as well as how the subjects are taught at school.

A mon avis, il serait beau si les pauvres enfants apprennent à parler leur langue de naissance avant d'aborder une langue étrangère. Quant à une deuxième langue étrangère, das ist unmöglich.

Mais, bonne chance, les gars!

15 August 2011

Hullo, hullo, hullo

If I wanted to establish a single Scottish police force, I wouldn't make a song and dance about it like the SNP. The Scotsman reports:
A SINGLE national police force is to be created in Scotland amid claims that the Scottish Government is "hell-bent" on ignoring public opinion on the issue.
The proposals will be at the heart of the SNP government's legislative programme later this year and comes despite overwhelming opposition to the idea in a recent consultation.
No, I would quietly and gradually transfer functions and resources to those bodies which are already national in character, such as the the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency. The regional forces would simply be left to wither on the vine, until such time as no-one cared about their disappearance.

Cynical? Perhaps ...

13 August 2011

Fear is the key?

The new adviser to our faddish Prime Minister takes an uncompromising approach. The Beria to Cameron's Stalin abjures all this wishy-washy liberal stuff. The Telegraph reports:

Speaking in New York, Mr Bratton, 63, said police forces should be more assertive in their dealings with offenders, leaving no doubt that crime would always meet a firm response.

“You want the criminal element to fear them, fear their ability to interrupt their own ability to carry out criminal behaviour, and arrest and prosecute and incarcerate them,” he said.

“In my experience, the younger criminal element don’t fear the police and have been emboldened to challenge the police and effectively take them on.”

So there's the answer: fear. Forget about respect and rehabilitation. Dismiss talk of being tough on the causes of crime. Just put the fear of death into the louts and rioters.

You can of course take it too far - look at President Assad of Syria. But I am sure, I think, that Generalissimo Cameron knows where to draw the line. He does, doesn't he?

12 August 2011

Going through the motions

I find it difficult to avoid the impression that Cameron and co wish to be seen to be acting tough rather than actually delivering a so-called crackdown. The Independent conveys the flavour of the No 10 propaganda:

Ministers and the security services are planning draconian powers to shut down or disrupt mobile phone messaging services and social networks in times of civil disorder.

Downing Street sources said they were considering the "moral and technical" questions of how to grant new powers blocking all mobile communications to prevent rioters organising through websites such as Twitter and the BlackBerry Messenger service.

David Cameron said "nothing should be off the table" in efforts to prevent a repeat of this week's rioting in London and cities across England.
But they are only considering blocking social networks; given the practical difficulties, it seems unlikely that anything will come of it. They are also considering further powers of curfew, as well as investigating the use of the Army for policing duties.

The only firm intention seems to involve giving police further powers to insists that scarves, hoods or masks be removed in appropriate circumstances.

I suppose we should be grateful that the government is avoiding any commitment to ill-thought out responses. And I suppose it is inevitable that they would want to appear to be acting tough. But it betrays a certain cynicism ...

11 August 2011

Foreign adventures

Oh dear, it's all going pear-shaped. The Independent reports:

Rebels, from the Wars of the Roses up to the present civil war in Libya, usually try to postpone splitting into factions and murdering each other until after they have seized power and are in full control. However deep their divisions, they keep them secret from the outside world.

Not so the Libyan rebels. Members of their Transitional National Council (TNC) in Benghazi last month detained their military leader, General Abdel Fatah Younes, on suspicion of treachery, lured him away from his bodyguards and murdered him. This week the head of the TNC, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, sacked his whole government on the grounds that some were complicit in the killing. He was apparently forced to do so in order to quell the rage of the powerful Obeidi tribe to which Younes belonged.

I would have thought that, following Iraq and Afghanistan, we might have learned the lesson that plunging into foreign adventures was unlikely to bring about satisfactory regime change. Now we face the usual problem of how to get out without making things even worse.

10 August 2011

Quote of the day

David Cameron:
"This is criminality, pure and simple."
Well, maybe. But probably not.

One of the few lessons I have learned over my six decades and more is that matters such as those afflicting English cities over the past few nights are seldom simple, neither in their cause nor in their cure. Those who are certain in their opinions about complex social and criminal phenomena are invariably up a gum tree.

So, if it can be done sensibly, restore order to the streets, but distrust anyone who claims to have the answer.

It's a gamble

So, after days of precipitous decline, the FTSE 100 managed a modest recovery yesterday. Is that it? Panic over? Can we go back to our knitting? Well, I doubt it.

I really don't mind the fact that the stock market has fallen. (After all, it is what stock markets do - rise and fall, rise and fall.) But a fall like the one we have just experienced creates room to make profits: we can buy shares cheaply and expect them to rise in value.

The trick is knowing when the market will turn. Invest too soon and risk further losses; invest too late and any profits will be diminished. I intend to leave any further investment until the decline reaches 4,200 or so.

(Unless I see a bargain in the meanwhile ...)

09 August 2011

Just in case you're interested ...

Did you ever wonder why paper comes in the size it does? Blame the Germans:
The international paper size standard, ISO 216, is based on the German DIN 476 standard for paper sizes. ISO paper sizes are all based on a single aspect ratio of square root of 2, or approximately 1:1.4142. The base A0 size of paper is defined to have an area of one m². With the given aspect ratio of square root of two, this corresponds to a piece of paper which its longer side is one metre multiplied by the square root of the square root (that is, the fourth root) of two and the shorter side being the reciprocal of this value. Rounded to millimetres the A0 paper size is 841 by 1,189 millimetres (33.1 × 46.8 in).
Successive paper sizes in the series A1, A2, A3, and so forth, are defined by halving the preceding paper size along the larger dimension. The most frequently used paper size is A4 (210 × 297 mm).
Not a lot of people know that. The UK adopted this standard in 1959, though I do not recall anyone making much of a fuss at the time. Before then (and indeed for a number of years thereafter) we commonly used foolscap, which was slightly larger than A4.

I suppose that it’s too late to demand that we rescind our adherence to the international standard. And why would one want to? Maybe I would just like to be contrary. Is globalisation such a good thing? Anyway, unlike the youth of today, I still think in Fahrenheit.

Have a nice evening.

Funny money

OK, London's burning, the euro is headed for hell in a handcart, Obama is floundering in a sea of misplaced intentions. But Manchester City are paying Sergio Aguero (who?) £250,000 per week.

How do you spend £35,000 plus every day?

It'll end in tears ...

07 August 2011

Music of the week

Some of us have never been in style ...

We're all in this together (part 26)

The Telegraph knows where its priorities lie:

Economies are collapsing, markets are in despair, but Britain’s grouse moors bask in the glow of happiness. And why not? This is where the real money heads in a crisis.

Next Friday is the Glorious Twelfth – the start of the grouse season – and most indications are that it will be a record one. Shooting parties will pay the highest prices ever, and the birds are predicted to be out in unusual abundance. Estate owners say the early days of the season are sold out – mostly to City types, the landowning aristocracy and wealthy foreigners.

So look out your tweeds, get yourself a gun and prepare to massacre a host of inoffensive wee birdies.

06 August 2011

The ebb and flow of capitalism

So the FTSE-100 has fallen dramatically over the past week and umpteen billions have been wiped off the value of shares. Does it matter?

Well, obviously, it matters if you are an investor who happens to own some of those shares. But perhaps it matters less than you think. If you have to sell your shares, now or in the immediate future, you may experience a stonking loss (depending of course on the price which you paid for them - and many will have paid less for them than even today’s reduced price ). But most shareholders will hold on to their shares. Sooner or later (and it may be a year or two), the market will return to the levels of last month. Not that you will ever see headlines proclaiming that umpteen billions have been added back to the value of shares. But the market will eventually rise again.

As for the rest of us, the fall in share values may affect the private sector pensions of those due to retire in the near future. But, otherwise, calm down. The world is not coming to an end (unless you happen to live in Greece, or Portugal, or Spain, or Italy - but that’s another story.)

We have enough real economic problems, such as potentially increasing unemployment and real declining standards of living, without investing too much concern in capitalist shareholders.

05 August 2011

Surfing the tarmac wave

The euro crisis, again again. The Independent reports:

Prescribing the curative medicine is the task of the leaders of the members of the eurozone. But saving the euro requires them to contemplate a much greater degree of economic convergence than has been deemed acceptable before. And as we know from the American debt debacle, even in times of crisis, politicians are not good at making such sensitive decisions.

Still, the American bickering did do the Europeans a favour in a sense, providing a hugely useful distraction during the week or so following the deal agreed for the second bailout of Greece. Europe's leaders at least got a few days to gather their thoughts – but just look at how the markets' focus turned back towards the eurozone the moment a US deal was agreed.

So the European politicians had the opportunity to gather their thoughts? Did they gather them? No, they all went off on holiday ...

Wishful thinking?

Always look on the bright side? The Independent does:

As for taxpayers' equity stake, let us say this: on almost any conventional yardstick, Lloyds' share price today significantly undervalues what is now an increasingly profitable bank – one-off charges aside – with market-leading positions in UK banking and mortgages, and scope for cost savings as the Lloyds-HBOS integration continues.


Despite some of the gloomy forecasts being made in the wake of Lloyds' update yesterday, there is still every chance of the taxpayer recouping its investment in the end.

Aye, well. There's an awful long way to go from the current share price of 32.16 pence to the level of over 70 pence required to avoid losses on the Government's investment.

Meltdown 2

Whither the global economy? Is it as bad as we think? No, it's worse. More blood letting expected today. The Guardian reports:
Policymakers were the heroes of Meltdown 1, thumbing through their copies of Keynes's General Theory to come up with the measures deemed necessary to prevent the global banking system from imploding. But if the next few weeks see Meltdown 2, the policy options will be limited. Interest rates are already at rock-bottom levels while the flirtation with Keynesian fiscal policies was brief. As one analyst put it on Thursday, the monetary and fiscal guns are not obviously full of bullets.
If you are looking for a chink of light (and it is only a chink), the pound is doing rather well against the euro ...

02 August 2011

Who knew?

Humph! The Guardian has managed to find ten cocktail bars in Edinburgh, with none of which am I familiar. You - I mean I - learn something every day.

I don't suppose they serve Deuchars IPA, however, ...

Here is the weather forecast

See those jokers at the IMF? The Independent reports:

In an assessment of the state of the UK economy, the IMF gave its backing to the Government's policy of "fiscal consolidation" to cut the deficit through tax hikes and spending cuts, backed by low interest rates set by the Bank of England.

[Translation: you seem to be dressed appropriately for the weather.]

Weaker-than-expected growth might require the Government to adopt "looser macroeconomic policies" such as tax cuts to stimulate demand, while the Bank launches a fresh round of quantitative easing - effectively printing money - said the IMF.

[But it might rain - so you better have an umbrella handy.]
However, the Bank must be ready to intervene to dampen demand by increasing interest rates from their record low of 0.5% if there are signs inflation is taking off, said the report.
[But, in case the sun comes out, you should take with you some sun-cream.]

What's the point?

Sartorial non-elegance

Look man, they're on their holidays! Why should I care if Cameron chooses to wear office shoes with no socks?

And Osborne's jeans are not dissimilar to those I wear (admittedly not with a jacket)

01 August 2011

Poor show

How the Tories treat the peasants, as reported in The Telegraph:
Her brusque treatment of the Prime Minister may have left her out of pocket. Mr Cameron paid the €3.10 (£2.71) bill with a €50 note and left no tip. "I was a bit surprised about that because I'm told he's quite wealthy," said Miss Ariani.
Mean sod.

Raise the black flag

Yes, you can find Proudhon and Bakunin on my bookshelves (admittedly undisturbed for many years). Does that make me a criminal? Well, probably, according to the Metropolitan police:
"Anarchism is a political philosophy which considers the state undesirable, unnecessary, and harmful, and instead promotes a stateless society, or anarchy. Any information relating to anarchists should be reported to your local police."
Silly Mr Plod.