30 May 2014

A new euphemism

The Guardian reports:
Nick Clegg is facing a fresh dilemma over whether to kick Lord Rennard out of the Liberal Democrats after the peer apologised for possibly encroaching on the personal space of four female activists.
The statement said Rennard recognised that he may have encroached upon "personal space" and would "therefore like to apologise sincerely for any such intrusion and assure them that this would have been inadvertent"
And thus, allegedly, he was an inadvertent personal space encroacher, rather than a common-or-garden creep.


Who knew?

It may not add much to the sound and fury surrounding the independence referendum but some of us are learning about the Scottish economy.  For example, The Guardian points out that Scottish GNI is rather less than Scottish GDP:
By the GDP measure, Scottish government data gives every Scottish citizen an amount of $39,600 per head. As Salmond argues, that puts Scotland comfortably ahead of the UK in the OECD rankings – the UK comes 17th at $34,800 per head - and above other major economies such as France and Japan, based on 2012 figures. But that ranking has been challenged by the study by University of Glasgow economists John McLaren and Jo Armstrong. Drawing on their previous work at the Centre for Public Policy for Regions, they confirm that the wealth actually held in Scotland – its national income – is lower, and that makes a significant difference to Scotland’s rankings and standard of living.
Using gross national income (GNI) – a more accurate measure of wealth, which assesses the money kept inside a country, rather than GDP, which measures overall economic output – Scotland’s actual wealth per head slips by $2,000 to $37,400. However, it falls by about $5,000 to $34,600 using a more robust alternative measure, as applied by McLaren and Armstrong, whose methodology includes discounting the profits and share dividends earned by foreign companies. Scotland is a prosperous country, with significant natural resources and industries, but the high level of external ownership in key industries has reduced the wealth held in Scottish hands. That means that while Scotland’s GDP was £144.7bn in 2012, its GNI, using the lower alternative measure, was £125.5bn.
Not likely to grab hearts and minds, but interesting, I think?


28 May 2014

Manna from heaven ...

... at least for the SNP.  The Financial Times reports:
Ministers in London have misled Scottish voters over how much it would cost to set up an independent government in Edinburgh, according to the man whose analysis underpins the Treasury’s case for Scotland remaining in the UK.
Patrick Dunleavy, politics professor at the London School of Economics, told the Financial Times the Treasury had manipulated his research to make the one-off costs of setting up a new government look ten times larger than they were likely to be.
His claims undermine part of the Treasury’s case for staying in the union, a day before Danny Alexander, the Treasury chief secretary, is due to unveil his final estimate of how much independence could cost Scottish taxpayers.
Prof Dunleavy said: “The Treasury’s figures are bizarrely inaccurate. I don’t see why the Scottish government couldn’t do this for a very small amount of money.”
Is it so difficult for the Westminster government to produce realistic estimates and to avoid scaremongering?  They are letting the side down for those of us who would prefer Scotland to remain part of the UK.

26 May 2014

It's no' so bad

A couple of glasses of Mahou (at £1.20 a pint) on the sunlit terrace of my local dispelled my early morning dyspepsia, while the aerial ballet of the swifts - wheeling, plunging, screaming, cavorting - against a deep blue sky lightened my soul.

But still,  UKIP?  The sassenachs know no better.  But how can one in ten of my compatriots put his trust in these charlatans?


Oh woe, thrice woe ...

What a depressing weekend:  Hibs were relegated, UKIP won a seat in Scotland after winning 10% of the vote, and SAGA made an inauspicious start to its stock market launch.

22 May 2014

He's not really xenophobic?

Worse things happen at sea

Look, it could have happened to anyone (or at least to anyone daft enough to separate the organisation running the trains from the organisation responsible for the track and stations).  But The Guardian has to make a song and dance about it:
Name: Le Train
Age: Very new.
Appearance: At a standstill.
Le train. Let me guess – French trains are in the news? Quel cleverness, mon petit chou! Yes, they are.
Et pourquoi? Because the French train company SNCF just took delivery of the 2,000 new trains it ordered at a cost of £12.1bn and discovered that they are too wide for more than 1,000 regional stations.
Merde! How did that happen? Apparently the national rail operator RFF gave SNCF the wrong dimensions.
Me, I blame the fat controller.  C'est magnifique mais ce n'est pas le chemin de fer.

20 May 2014

Nice work if you can get it

The Guardian reports:
Royal Bank of Scotland has handed its new finance director almost £2m in shares on his first day in the job at the bailed out bank.
Ewen Stevenson was awarded 584,506 shares, which will be released to him over three years to buy him out of pay deals he left behind at his previous employer, Credit Suisse.
He is on an annual package worth £1.9m a year, made up of an £800,000 salary, £280,000 in pension contributions, £26,250 in benefits and £800,000 in "allowances", a vehicle used by banks to get round the EU bonus cap.
Because he's worth it?


17 May 2014

Atletico Madrid 1 Barcelona 1

The gangster does it again.  The multi-millionaires of Barca fail to stop Atleti from securing the title.  And so La Liga falls to the unsung, the impoverished, the under-rated Atletico Madrid.

15 May 2014

Investment for wrinklies

Useful advice:

But it won't prevent me from seeking to buy the shares.

Quote of the day

The Guardian summarises the content of the new movie about Princess Grace of Monaco:
"Should she return to her selfish, shallow life in Hollywood or build a new shallow, selfish life in Monte Carlo?"


13 May 2014

Panic stations

CityAM reports:
TWO POLLS don’t make a trend. But something seems to be going on in British politics right now, and it’s not good news for the Labour party. For the past two years, opinion polls have consistently put the Tories behind Labour – until yesterday, when not one but two polls gave David Cameron’s party a lead for the first time since 2012.
First came a poll by Lord Ashcroft which put the Tories on 34 per cent, Labour on 32 per cent, Ukip on 15 per cent and the Lib Dems on 9 per cent. Then came an ICM/Guardian poll: it put the Conservatives on 33 per cent, Labour on 31 per cent, Ukip on 15 per cent and the Lib Dems on 13 per cent.
It is certainly not good news for Labour.  Nor is it good news for those who want Scotland to remain part of the UK.  The prospects of another five years of Tory rule in the UK will drive voters into the Yes camp for the independence referendum.


Quote of the day

From The Guardian (here):
Michael Gove is a man who would find it difficult to walk past a fire without pouring petrol on it. A man who has repeatedly and rigorously questioned the brilliance of his own ideas and found – much to his delight – that he and they are every bit as brilliant as he first thought. A man whose instinctive reaction to any challenge is to come out fighting.
Some Labour MPs made the mistake of referring to free schools as a vanity project. For Gove this is a compliment. He may not have a lot to be personally vain about, but he is assiduous in cultivating those few areas where vanity is possible. He is a dandy manqué. A showman. His clothes, his theatrical delivery, even his policies are expressions of his personality. Vanity. All is vanity.


12 May 2014

Look, they have to write about something

The Telegraph again.  This time it's dwelling in fantasy land:
England must not win the football World Cup. For the sake of the Union and its survival, defeat for England in Brazil is imperative.
England winning would rescue Alex Salmond, who is, despite all his grinning and bluster, behind in the independence campaign. A World Cup win – with the London-based sporting media going nuts demanding a dukedom for Stephen Gerrard and banging on about football coming home, the boys of 1966 and all that – would be guaranteed to infuriate the Scots and swing it for the Nationalists.
If I were the bold Alex, I would not allow my hopes to be raised over much.  Still, it's an entertaining thought to consider that, for once, the nationalists might be supporting England's efforts at the World Cup.


You don't expect a sentence like this to be published on The Telegraph website, but there it is - in all its illiterate glory:
Footballers have refused to wear it's logo on their shirts; a recent twitter campaign accused the firm of wanting to own their customers’s souls.
There are just no standards any more ...

10 May 2014

The power of public opinion?

You know that feeling when you've opened up a can of worms?  You just wish you had never started it in the first place.  The Pfizer boss must be feeling that way this morning.  Sure, he may still win, but it is likely to be a pyrrhic victory.  The Guardian reports:
Ignore, for the moment, the rights and wrongs of Pfizer's attempt to buyAstraZeneca. This column's view was made clear last week: the US group is untrustworthy, its proposal rests on a dubious tax arbitrage and UK interests are threatened. In short, the deal stinks. But will it happen?
A hard-headed assessment a week ago might have put the probability at 90%. Might prevails nine times out of 10, even when national tempers are inflamed.
A week on, though, the story looks less simple. Cameron and his cabinet are suddenly all over the place. The prime minister now declares himself "not satisfied" with the assurances and wants more. Business secretary Vince Cable talks vaguely about a public interest test. Meanwhile, Labour leader Ed Miliband has woken up, understood there is a threat to UK science and is arguing (rightly) for just such a public interest investigation.
The scientists are up in arms. Sir David Barnes, former AstraZeneca boss, caught the mood best when he called Pfizer a "praying mantis" on account of its grim record of cutting research and development after acquisitions. Sir Richard Sykes, former GlaxoSmithKline boss, cuts a lonely figure as a supporter of the bid. Swedish politicians talk bitterly about Pfizer's broken promises after buying Pharmacia.
US politicians are also unhappy as they contemplate the threat to the US tax system if companies follow Pfizer's plan to move its tax domicile to the UK via a so-called "inversion". The US rules allow such a soft-shoe shuffle on tax if shareholders in the non-US company end up with at least 20% of the new entity. Ron Wyden, chairman of the Senate finance committee, wants to raise the bar to 50% immediately. "Corporations must understand that they won't profit from abandoning the US," he wrote in yesterday's Wall Street Journal. The tax inversion, though, is a "key driver" of Read's pitch to AstraZeneca.
But Read's biggest problem is the apparent lack of enthusiasm for the adventure among his own shareholders. By mid-afternoon on Friday, Pfizer's shares had fallen 7% since the proposal was published, meaning its £50 offer in cash and paper was now worth a shade under £48.
It's a tangled web alright.  And all of the main players seem more or less out of their depth.


08 May 2014

Music of the week

Nice lady with big hair and fiddle - what's not to like?

Well yes but ...

In some ways, it is amazing that the possibility of the unionists losing the independence referendum is even being contemplated.  The Daily Mail reports:
David Cameron has insisted he will not resign if Scotland votes for independence despite warnings from senior Tories that a ‘yes’ vote will plunge his premiership into unprecedented crisis.
The Prime Minister has told friends he has ‘no intention’ of quitting if the Scots vote for independence in the referendum he agreed with Alex Salmond.
Some senior Conservatives believe that Mr Cameron will face a clamour to quit if he is Prime Minister who presides over the loss of the 300-year-old Union.
‘If Scotland goes it is going to be very difficult. He might have had little choice but if you are the Prime Minister that calls [Scottish First Minister Alex] Salmond’s bluff and loses, it’s unthinkable,’ said one.
As I have hinted before, I rather suspect that, if yes wins, all hell will break loose.  It is not beyond rational thought that the present (UK) coalition government might be replaced by a cross party alliance to deal with the crisis, with next year's general election postponed.  The Tories and LibDems, having lost the confidence of the nation (however it may be defined), would be in no condition to negotiate the terms of the impending divorce.  And the prospect of a UK-wide general election, leading to either a Labour government dependent on Scottish Labour MPs or a Tory government unable to command a majority in the Commons, is unlikely to clarify matters.

I find it difficult to believe but, just to maximise the possible disruption, the present coalition is apparently refusing to undertake any contingency planning ...


06 May 2014

Going pear-shaped

You can bet that, when The Daily Mail puts on the tackety boots, the Government is in deep doo-doo:
The naivety of the Cameron government in accepting the promises of asset-stripping U.S. drugs giant Pfizer in its effort to take over Britain’s AstraZeneca is breathtaking.
At this early stage in a bid battle, before a formal offer has been posted to shareholders, it is outrageous that the Government and Whitehall should think they have a role in smoothing the way for a deal.
If, as Chancellor George Osborne has said, big mergers with overseas firms should be settled ‘on commercial grounds’ and by the markets, then the Government should keep its nose out of such matters. 
What it certainly should not be doing is giving an overseas predator - which in the recent past pulled thousands of jobs out of Britain - open access to government ministers so it can forge private deals out of sight of investors.
Labour leader Ed Miliband —who has accused the Government of acting as a ‘cheerleader’ for Pfizer’s £63 billion offer for AstraZeneca - has, for once, struck the right note.
Yes, his comments may be sheer hypocrisy since it was under Labour that great swathes of British commerce (including four of the big six energy groups) were abandoned to overseas control.
But the sight of the Government grovelling to an overseas corporation, seeking to merge with one of our most highly successful science-based companies, is little short of sickening.Conservative justification for supporting what would be the biggest foreign takeover of a British company is, to my mind, based on short-sighted political point-scoring.
A little over the top, perhaps; but the point is taken.