31 March 2016

Guilty as charged

According to The Times (here):

People who are angered by poorly written correspondence — grammar pedants — are more likely to be introverted and disagreeable than those who are not bothered by mistakes, a study has suggested.
Readers who are left fuming by ungrammatical or poorly written emails are more likely to be rated with the negative personality traits, according to linguistics researchers at the University of Michigan.
Why should I care if some damn fool researcher thinks I'm disagreeable.  And what's it got to do with you, anyway ...

30 March 2016

It's tough being a saver

Sensible investors know better but those who trust their savings with traditional institutions in the traditional way will suffer.  The Guardian reports:
Millions of savers were dealt a blow after National Savings & Investments cut the interest rates on many of its accounts. NS&I has also slashed the number of premium bond prizes, thereby reducing people’s chances of winning.
The rate on the investment account, held by more than 1.7 million people, will fall from 0.75% to 0.45%, while the 415,000 holders of the Direct Isa will see their rate drop from 1.25% to 1%. The direct saver rate will fall to 0.8% from its current 1.1%, while income bonds will now pay 1%, down from 1.25%.
Meanwhile, the premium bond prize fund rate - the proportion of the total amount invested paid out in prizes - is being cut from 1.35% to 1.25%. This reflects the fact that the total number of prizes will fall to an estimated 2m in June - the equivalent figure for this month is just over 2.3m.
And, thus, at a stroke, the benefits of the change in the tax treatment of interest from next month - at least for savers with NS&I - are wiped out.


29 March 2016


A somewhat muddled article in The Times:
A vote to leave the European Union is set to trigger an exodus of British expatriates from the continent, an investigation by The Timeshas found.
Every day a hundred British residents of Spain leave the country as economic woes grip the Mediterranean. Uncertainty over the future of healthcare benefits and the value of the state pension if Britain withdraws will bring a further increase in the number returning home, experts have predicted.
Officials in France have said that thousands of Britons there could lose their right to public healthcare if the UK left the union. The flight of expatriates from the EU means that there is now a huge and growing disparity between the number of Britons who live in Europe and the number of Europeans who live in Britain.
Oh dear.  But then the article goes on:

All countries in the EU except France, Spain and Luxembourg now have more of their population in the UK than vice-versa. In total, there are 2.9 million Europeans in Britain but 1.2 million Britons in the EU, according to the latest United Nations data.
So, if (and it is a big if) the UK votes for Brexit, all those 2.9 million EU residents in the UK will also lose their right to healthcare benefits. Essentially the net loss will fall on the EU.  Plenty of scope for establishing reciprocal arrangements.

The Brits in my quaint little fishing village in Andalucia are far from panic.  And I see little sign of a continuing exodus.

28 March 2016

We're all in this together?

Is the Labour Party going far enough in criticising Osborne's reforms to capital gains tax?  The Guardian reports:
George Osborne’s budget is handing a tax cut averaging £3,000 to some of the wealthiest people in the country who make up just 0.3% of the population, the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, has said.
Labour is calling for the cut in capital gains tax (CGT) to be scrapped, saying it would give investors already making money about the same, on average, as the government had planned to take from disabled people under changes to benefits.
Osborne made the surprise announcement of a cut in capital gains tax (CGT) – from 28% to 20% for higher rate taxpayers and 18% to 10% for those on the basic rate – in the budget as a way to encourage people to invest in shares. The tax is applied on profits on the sale of assets that exceed £11,100 and is paid by a very small minority of people.
The present and future tax treatment of capital investment seems to me to be incredibly generous.  Not only will you be permitted to make capital gains in any year of up to £11,100 without liability for tax, but you will also be able to receive up to £5,000 in dividends before paying tax.  In order for the taxman to get anywhere near your capital investment pockets, I estimate that you would have to have investments of well over £100,000.  Not exactly poverty-stricken, then.


26 March 2016

Music of the week

Nostalgia ain't what it used to be ...

The Camerons in Lanzarote

Why is she wearing a blanket over her shoulder?


Fantasy currency trading

Improbable?  Would you trust opinion polls to this extent?  The Times reports:
Hedge funds are preparing to use exit polls to make hugely profitable trades before the official result of the European Union referendum is declared.
Traders want to exploit a loophole in electoral law that forbids the publication of surveys while voting takes place, according to City sources.
Commissioning a private exit poll that accurately forecast how Britain had voted would enable traders to make a killing on the currency markets. A vote for Brexit is widely expected to trigger a decline in sterling against the dollar, but a surge is the likely outcome if voters choose to remain.
Aye, well.  The proposed trades will only be profitable (i) if the polls deliver the correct answer and (ii) the correct answer is not widely predictable (in which case any currency movements will already have been anticipated).  This is a manufactured story.


25 March 2016

Get a life!

Has this Guardian columnist got nothing better to do than watch children's television?  I mean, does anyone care about the precise gradations in the accents of Peppa Pig's family?
This is probably a result of watching too much Downton Abbey over the years, but every day, as I sit through back-to-back episodes of Peppa Pig with my kids, I increasingly find myself wondering: did Mummy Pig marry down?
I ask because both she and her parents have notably posher accents than Daddy Pig. He is in the middle; Mummy Pig is slightly posher than him; and Grandpa and Granny Pig – particularly Granny, who is a kind of porcine Felicity Kendal – are super-posh. Peppa, meanwhile, mimics her mother’s more than her father’s voice. I see her years from now, sporting a blazer and straw boater, bellowing one of her signature boasts into the face of a school chum.

And they get paid for this?


24 March 2016

In defence of the wrinklies

Far from sure that this is entirely justified but it is a useful counterblast to the apparently universal belief that pensioners are favoured over younger generations:
The argument is made by respectable think-tanks, such as the Resolution Foundation and the estimable Institute for Fiscal Studies, that pensioners have never had it so good. Their figures show that the incomes of retired people have risen faster in recent years than those of younger people in work. But this does not mean that retired people are, even on average, well-off. The statisticians are talking percentage rises from a disgracefully low base. 
The income of most pensioners, in real money, is still considerably lower than that of most working people. Nor are their outgoings automatically lower. Indeed,  an OECD report published late last year found that the UK state pension was “one of the worst in the world”, with only Mexico and Chile coming lower among industrialised countries. 
Pensioners have also had a raw deal from the financial crisis, though a different raw deal from that suffered by those in work. While wages have, until very recently, stagnated or fallen, pensions have slowly risen. But the savings that today’s pensioners were encouraged to make while they were working to supplement their still-paltry pension now produce almost no income at all. 
The low interest rates that allow working people to take out higher mortgages (and fuel higher house prices) penalise pensioners who saved – whether in bank accounts, Isas or private pensions. If interest rates go into negative territory, their plight will be even worse. Contrast this with the Lifetime Isas announced by the Chancellor in his Budget. These will  pay an effective interest rate of more than 20 per cent (£1,000 for every £4,000  saved for a house or a pension). This is a  rate most pensioners – told to “shop around” for a rate higher than 0.5 per cent  – can only dream of. 
Nevertheless, it surely cannot be denied that some pensioners (not excluding me) are doing rather better than alright.  Case for means-testing some of the pensioner benefits?

23 March 2016

Caution or pusillanimity?

All that effort to acquire powers over tax.  And, having acquired such powers, the SNP disdains their use.  The BBC website notes:
So the offer on tax is to thwart the chancellor's proposed tax cut for higher earners which is achieved by raising the threshold for the 40p rate from £42,000 to £45,000.
Instead of that, the threshold in Scotland will only rise by CPI inflation - as I forecast a wee while back. (In fact, the entire package will have come as no surprise to regular readers of this site.)
Ms Sturgeon and her deputy John Swinney said their plan meant nobody in Scotland would pay more than they presently pay. Some would pay less. But some would pay more than folk in the rest of the UK.
That, they said, would generate productive revenue for public services in Scotland - which they multi-counted to reach a figure of £1bn over the lifetime of the next parliament.
Looking ahead, the first minister also envisaged an enhanced personal allowance of £12,750 by 2021-22 - with the prospect of a zero rate band to achieve that, if necessary.
Throw in the modest changes to council tax, and it is a policy of steady as she goes.


20 March 2016

Quote of the day

From The Observer (here):

... how should we judge Duncan Smith’s six years as secretary of state? Having an original, consistent vision for the transformation of the benefit system was not a fault, even if not all of us thought it was practical or sensible. But when confronted with evidence or data that challenged his world view, he ignored it or, worse still, twisted and misrepresented the statistics. When his advisers told him to slow down, he refused to listen. When disabled people or charities pointed out the human cost, in suicides or food banks, not only did he not change course, he and his advisers smeared them with off-the-record briefings. Ultimately, it was this refusal to engage with reality that was not only his downfall, but ensures that he leaves little in the way of a positive legacy.

If the Tory Party is a house of many mansions, then a plague on them all.


19 March 2016

Music of the week

Allez les bleus!

Fantasy politics

The last time I sought an appointment with my Edinburgh GP, I was offered a date three weeks later.  But, never mind, according to the BBC, Kezia is going to fix it:
Scottish Labour has said everyone in Scotland will be guaranteed a GP appointment within 48 hours if the party wins the Holyrood election.
Party leader Kezia Dugdale will make the pledge in a speech to its one-day conference in Glasgow.

Question:  How do you reduce a waiting list from three weeks to 48 hours?
Answer:  You can't and won't.

(Unless you accept that it will take years and years, given the throughput from medical schools.  In which case, it would be kinder to say so.)


Fantasy football

Well, at least, it's an original thought.  The Independent reports:
Arsène Wenger, the Arsenal manager, has claimed that Barcelona were “more beatable than ever before” in a response to suggestions that Europe’s elite have left his side behind.
The north Londoners suffered a 5-1 aggregate loss to the Spanish side after a 3-1 second leg defeat in the Nou Camp on Wednesday. Yet Wenger, who saw his side knocked out of the FA Cup and Champions League in the space of four days this week, was full of frustration at how Arsenal did not progress in the latter competition despite being totally outplayed in both legs.
“The regret I have about the two games against Barcelona may be they were more beatable than ever before,” he said when asked if Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid are now uncatchable. 
Aye, and pigs might fly ...


17 March 2016

Quote of the day

From The Guardian (here):
You could normally rely on the Labour leader to fail to rise to the big occasion and replying to a budget that even those who wrote it haven’t fully understood was one of the toughest gigs in Westminster. George settled in for the car crash. That never came. Dressed in a sharp new suit, Corbyn delivered one of his sharpest performances yet in the Commons.
“This budget is the culmination of six years of failure,” he began, his voice angry with intent. Even a few of his many enemies on the Labour benches began to look up and pay attention. Corbyn pressed on. His speech didn’t always bear much relation to anything George had actually said – he hadn’t been listening when the chancellor was talking about small business – and it did sometimes feel as if he was reading it for the first time, but the unfamiliar can sometimes create a feeling of immediacy.
Then something unprecedented happened. Corbyn made a gag. Or read one out that someone else had written.“This government has built 12 homes in Ebbsfleet for every government press release,” he said. “We need more press releases.” People laughed. Not at him, but with him. George’s day had unexpectedly just gone from bad to worse.

Map of the day

It's the same the whole world over ...

And so the rich get richer.  The Independent reports:
For those with large salaries, the threshold for the higher rate of income tax will be raised from £42,386 to £45,000. For those with valuable assets, capital gains tax will be cut from 28 per cent to 20 per cent. For those wealthy enough to have savings, the ISA limit will be increased from £15,000 to £20,000. For those wealthy enough to run businesses, corporation tax will fall from 20 per cent to 17 per cent.
Research suggests that in raising the tax-free personal allowance, 85 per cent of the benefits of these cuts will go to the wealthiest half of Britain. A think tank has found that because Britain’s 4.6 million lowest paid workers earn less than £10,600 already, they “will gain nothing at all.” Rather, it is the middle classes who stand to gain the most, under a scheme masquerading as help for the poor.
Similarly, tax-free ISAs will be increased from £15,000 to £20,000 which means little to anyone but those already wealthy enough to have considerable savings. You simply cannot dodge interest on savings which you do not have.
Ain't it all a bloody shame ...


The unanswerable question

14 March 2016


Apparently, the Prime Minister has been love-bombing English regional newspapers.  The Guardian reports:
The Herald, Plymouth’s newspaper, published a piece from Cameron which began with the words: “I love Cornwall and Isles of Scilly.” The Newcastle Chronicle carried a piece that started: “I love Northumberland.” And the same in the Lincolnshire Echo: “I love Lincolnshire.”
For the south-west audience, the PM wrote of Cornwall: “From their stunning beaches and coastal walks to their creative arts projects, this county is one of the many jewels in Great Britain’s crown.”
For the north-east: “From Hadrian’s Wall to Europe’s biggest sky park, this county is one of the many jewels in Great Britain’s crown.”
For Lincolnshire, the PM said: “From the quaint market towns to the rolling countryside, this county is one of the many jewels in Great Britain’s crown.”
Promiscuous?  And how ...


Did Michael Gove leak the Queen's aversion to the EU?  To the Murdoch press?  The Independent thinks so:
This scrape may be his last as a Cabinet minister for a while. Landing himself in hot water is one thing, and a usually survivable thing at that. Dunking the Queen in it, and so compromising the Crown’s priceless neutrality, is another. Even in an undeferential age, he may have to go.
If so, knowing how close he is both to Boris and George Osborne, he would probably return, assuming one or other succeeds Cameron – and any such comeback would be loudly supported by one newspaper group. But if Michael Gove does quit, perhaps he could use some of the new free time to ponder Norman’s First Iron Law of Media Life, and act upon it. If you go to bed with Rupert Murdoch, that law definitively states, you will inevitably one day awake with a discharge and a nasty rash.

12 March 2016

Appeal from Edinburgh foodbank

It won't cost you anything to sign a petition:
I am writing as a friend of our foodbank to ask for your support to encourage Lothian Buses to reverse its decision to stop using single journey paper tickets.
These paper tickets are used at our seven foodbank centres to give to clients, who we find through conversation, have travelled a long distance to collect an emergency food pack.
The alternative is for us to use Lothian's 'm-tickets' via mobile phones or 'smart cards' that have to be pre-loaded and topped up with a minimum of 10 journeys.  Neither of these will allow us to supply single tickets leaving those already in crisis to carry food packs weighing between 11 and 26 kilograms substantial distances.
We would ask you to consider signing the following on-line petitions to keep this valuable resource used by many of Edinburgh Charities:
38 Degrees Petition to Lothian Buses - CLICK HERE
City of Edinburgh Council Petition - CLICK HERE 
Please feeel free to pass this on to friends and relatives to gain their support too.
Many thanks, 
Ewan WalkerOperations ManagerEdinburgh Food Project
But you can make a donation to the foodbank here.


Music of the week

It's not easy being Queen

Extract from Her Maj's diary (here):
One’s household is in uproar. According to the Sun, one once declared one’s fervent preference for Britain leaving the Europe Union in the midst of a fierce argument with Nick Clegg.
“Who?” one says.
“He was the deputy prime minister,” says one’s private secretary, who is completely apoplectic about all this.
Nope. Complete blank. One has nothing.
“Mimsy feller,” explains Philly. “Bog-brush hair. Whines a lot. Wants us to be more like Belgium. Handshake like a fish.”
One tells Philly to shush. Imagine the fuss if it leaked out that we thought that.
“Oh, don’t worry,” says one’s private secretary. “Everybody thinks that.”


Quote of the day

Even allowing for the fact that his English is not as good as he thinks it is, this is still gibberish:
When asked whether the next week would determine his future, Van Gaal not only refused to engage, but went on to claim that, in his view, his United plan is on track.
“Yes, I do think it is working,” Van Gaal said. “You have to see how we have to work with the circumstances we have to work. I do think it is working. The style is also working, but it is not giving the best results.
“When you don’t have too many players and you have to play in three competitions it is very difficult to play.


10 March 2016

To them that hath ...

Look, I know it's complicated but Osborne's decision to abandon reform of pensions tax relief only benefits higher earners.  CityAM explains:

Higher earners have likely benefited from chancellor George Osborne's decision last week to push back any pension tax changes, but the majority of earners are now missing out, a report released today argues.
According to the research by the Resolution Foundation, if Osborne had unveiled a flat rate of relief of 30 per cent at next week's Budget, a 30-year-old on an average salary who is saving at the rates required under auto-enrolment would have seen a boost of £11,200, or 13 per cent, in their pension pot by the time they reached retirement. On the other hand, somebody bringing home £60,000 a year would have missed out on £22,000, a fall of 14 per cent.
Meanwhile, a pensions Isa – which would see contributions to pensions be taxed but withdraws become tax-exempt – could have increased the average worker's pensions savings by 26 per cent, or £21,400, but it would have decreased the higher-paid worker's by 12 per cent, or £19,700.
"The chancellor was right to look at changes to pension tax relief, which is very expensive and disproportionately benefits higher earners," said Adam Corlett, economic analyst at the Resolution Foundation. "The savings challenge our country faces is to boost the retirement incomes of low-income households – not give tax breaks to high earners – and that should be the priority for reform."
The report states that the current pensions system is setting government back just less than £35bn a year, while the top one per cent of taxpayers rake in 13 per cent of total tax relief, making the argument for reform very strong.
But not if it upsets the Tory chums in the City.

09 March 2016


Just watching the Chelsea-PSG match on BT Sport, being introduced by the ubiquitous Gary Lineker. Given the alleged size of his salary from the BBC, I would have thought that the BBC would have insisted on an exclusive contract.


Sliding down hills on sticks?  I never saw the point, myself.  Just another excuse to wear bobble hats and expensive anoraks ...


Did the earth move?

The Guardian reports:
Leicester City’s success on the pitch has been sending shockwaves through the city with the celebrations of fans being picked up by equipment used to detect earthquakes.
Supporters jumping up and down at the King Power Stadium when Leicester grabbed an 89th-minute winner against Norwich City caused a quake with a magnitude of 0.3, researchers have said.
The team have been the surprise package in the Premier League and are clear at the top by five points with nine games left to play.
Doesn't happen at Easter Road, aka the Leith San Siro ...


06 March 2016

They're talking about me

My local

The Observer has been visiting my hidey-hole in Andalucia and believes that the ex-pat community is anxious:
A brisk westerly wind blusters through the high-rise hotels and apartment blocks of the Costa del Sol, but the sun is warm. Along the urban stretch south of Málaga that runs from Torremolinos to Benalmádena and on to Fuengirola, Spanish families promenade along the seafront. But up around Benalmádena’s Bonanza Square, the bars are almost exclusively stocked with Brits, residents and holidaymakers: the middle-aged and the retired.
It’s a friendly, noisy place. Richie Hart has been in Málaga province for 18 months with his partner Kay Ritchie – they work long hours running their Welsh-themed bar. “There’s around 50 bars in this strip and I’d say about five are Spanish-owned,” said Hart.
Everyone knows that, if Britain leaves the European Union, the lives they came here for could change. One million of the 5.5 million Brits who have moved abroad live in Spain, and anyone who has lived here for less than 15 years, can vote in the in/out referendum on 23 June. Many keep up with the news at home through ferociously Eurosceptic newspapers such as the Daily Mail, but Brexit viewed from Spain carries its own specific risks. There is anxiety on the costas.
I'm not convinced.  If Brexit occurs (and it won't be before 2018 at the earliest), there may certainly be changes in the terms and conditions of expat residence in Spain but I find it difficult to believe that the authorities would risk either a wholesale de-population of the Costas or a significant reduction in the number of Brits coming out here.  As President Hollande would put it, there would be consequences ...


05 March 2016

Music of the week

Capitalists unite - you can only lose your shirts

I'm not scratching my head; I'm simply grateful.  The Guardian reports:
Was that it? The year began with warnings to sell up and hunker down for another financial crisis. But now investors have been left scratching their heads after the FTSE 100 enjoyed its third week of gains to soar back to where it started 2016.
The index rallied 1% on Friday to close at 6,199.43, just shy of the 6,242.32 level at which it opened the year and above the 6,093 where it closed on the first trading day of the year.
It marks a 12% turnaround from a three-year low hit in February as the London blue-chip index slumped along with stock markets around the world. Investors had dumped shares amid a commodities rout and on worries about the global economic outlook and China’s economy in particular. As the sell-off deepened, economists at the Royal Bank of Scotland warned clients: “Sell everything except high quality bonds.”
Put not your trust in city scribblers  - they know not their arse from their elbow ...


Project Fear

Mrs Cameron's diary reveals that Nancy has the answer:
Well fear is having the biggest moment which is totes :))) except I said to Mummy, it might sound easy but you try having to think of a new scary thing every day #projectfear? It is only week 2 & we have used up scary migrants & scary expensive holidays & the French bringing back icky squatters for scared English people #eek #typicalHollande :( Dave’s like, so how about, if we vote leave, Chinese people will literally buy up the whole of London #scary, Nancy’s like, soz Dad, that already happened, he’s like, OK, without wise EU regulations, greedy property barons will literally obliterate Britain’s precious heritage #terrifying, Nancy’s like, ditto, he’s like, plus your pension age could literally soar to 75 #spinechilling, Nancy’s like, ditto, he’s like, OK, this is good, if we leave the EU, sneering Putinist non-doms will literally bet on the outcome of degrading, pseudo gladiatorial tennis matches between the British premier and London’s mayor while global corporations pay less tax than a teaching assistant & literally absolutely everything will be run by Etonians for ever & ever, & we will have to put LITERALLY ED VAIZEY IN CHARGE OF LIBRARIES!!! Nancy’s like, srsly Dad, IRL, what libraries, how about this: literally the day after Britain votes leave Frau Merkel will summon house-sized Nazi zombies from their graves & laugh while they submerge our island home beneath innumerable layers of suffocating green slime #endtimes, Dave’s like, look, I know you are busy Nancy, but did you not READ the last dossier?


03 March 2016

On Her Majesty's Secret Service

h/t Heather

Council tax

The proposals of the Scottish Government to amend the council tax by increasing it for those in properties in the four highest bands does absolutely nothing to address the major anomaly whereby the council tax bands are based on property valuations dating from 1991, some 25 years ago,

Accordingly, as each year passes, the tax bands become more and more remote from the reality of property values, as different kinds of housing in different parts of the country increase in value at differential rates; and the nonsense whereby new houses and flats are assessed for council tax band purposes on the basis of hypothetical 1991 values is perpetuated.

I appreciate that a nationwide property revaluation would be an expensive exercise (and that there would be winners and losers) but it will have to be done sooner or later.  Otherwise the inherent unfairnesses in the system will simply multiply.


01 March 2016

Quote of the day

The London media are still in thrall to the evil genius of Nicola.  This from The Times:
It is not impossible that Nicola Sturgeon may be confusing people. While making a speech yesterday in London — where, for now at least, she can go without passing through border checks — Scotland’s first minister passionately urged British people to vote to keep the United Kingdom in the European Union. She said this despite probably hoping, equally passionately, that they don’t. And yet, despite officially hoping for an In, while secretly hoping for an Out, she does, actually, want to Remain. “My God,” you might be thinking. “The woman makes less sense than Boris.”
...  no, Sturgeon knows exactly what she is doing. She knows where this all might lead, and she knows what to do when we get there. The question is, does anybody else?
Well, certainly not the Tories, nor indeed Labour.  But that would only be the end of the beginning, so to speak ...