Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas

Urgh. It's Christmas morning and I feel like crap - streaming nose, streaming eyes, the shivers and what feels like a kazoo band playing in my chest ever time I cough. If I suggested at any point last week that Jack McConnell might have been 'at it' by phoning in sick before last week's Trident debate, then I repent entirely!

I suspect last week was the final straw. Out on Tuesday night; 2 receptions - BBC and SNP - on Wednesday night, followed by a late dinner and more beers; the SNP researchers night out on Thursday, with me doing my best Frank Sinatra impression and a 5am finish; and on Friday, an all-day session with my old pals from Scottish Widows, which a protesting body forced me to bail out of around 8pm. I guess I just can't hack it any more...

At least being stuffed full of paracetamol makes it easy for me to be the driver this year. I'll head over to my parent's house in a bit, then we'll meet up with the rest of the family at my cousin Hazel's house. It's perfect for everybody because Hazel 1) has a big house with a big kitchen and 2) with the help of partner Eric and sister Lesley, manages to cook the sort of extravagant, beautiful food that always makes the day really special.

In the eyes of my little cousin Lorimer, I've always in the past had the special role on Christmas Day of being his Lego builder-in-chief. However, he's getting older now, so sadly, this might be the last year that he gets something which he needs the help of his big cousin to build! I'll just need to find more creative ways to avoid the annual horror that is the family game of Pictionary.

It's always men vs. women, and with a father who was an engineer and and an uncle who was a signwriter, you'd think we might actually be quite good. Alas, the perfectionist in both always comes to the fore, as does my Dad's infuriating habit of staring at you as if you're an idiot, just because you can't work out what his painstakingly composed drawing is supposed to be!

Anyway, I'm off now until the 8th, and the chance to do nothing is extremely welcome. I've got a pile of books, which I may or may not get through, but the highlight after today is going to be New Year, where myself and a few friends have booked a log cabin up near Torridon.

It should be idyllic, but rather worryingly, we've just found out that there's no mains electricity and that running the generator for more than 70 hours in a week is Verboten. I guess that means hillwalks during the day, and wind-up radios and candles at night. Just so long as the heating isn't electric too...

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Give the man a peerage

I caught the tail-end of what sounded like a very bad-tempered debate on Trident in the Scottish Parliament this morning. However, amidst the general hooting, hollering and tyre-swinging in evidence on the Labour benches, one contributor shone out like a beacon. Step forward John Home-Robertson, backbench nark extrordinaire and soon to be ex-MSP for East Lothian.

Choosing to ignore completely the subject at hand, Home-Robertson decided instead to embark on a treatise on an SNP defence policy existing nowhere except his own imagination. The worrying thing was that on the fleeting occasions when he did manage to look up from his notes, he looked like he genuinely believed the rubbish he was spouting.

An independent Scotland would have to introduce conscription, we were told, to overcome the unemployment that independence would bring. There would be no shiny new Eurofighters for the Scottish air force, which would presumably be left flying Sopwith Camels. And the Labour government had been making great progress, oh yes, when it came to multilateral nuclear disarmament. Just so long as you pretend that India, Pakistan, North Korea and Iran don't exist, you understand.

Such a parliamentary talent should be preserved in perpetuity for the nation, immune to the slings and arrows of public opinion. The man surely deserves a peerage for years of tireless service to partisan party hackery and the advancement of nonsense arguments. Lord Home-Robertson of Balderdash has a certain ring to it, don't you think?

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Forewarned is Forearmed...

Ho-hum. Tomorrow (Monday) will see the discharge of the latest fusillade designed to convince us all that the Scots are too wee, too poor and too stupid to be Independent. Yes folks, its time for the Government Expenditure and Revenues in Scotland (GERS) report once more.

There's a number of problems with this report, not least to do with the fact it's always out of date by the time it is published (this one will be for 2004/05). However, the biggest problem is its tendency to both exaggerate spending and underestimate revenues raised in Scotland.

Nowhere is this more blatant than over North Sea oil and gas. Even though 95% of these revenues would accrue to Scotland, GERS leaves them out entirely. In calculating a Scottish budget 'deficit' (the figure we are invited to believe is the amount of subsidy coming north), it also overlooks the fact that the UK as a whole is running an even larger (and real) deficit. This alone would render impossible any kind of domestic UK subsidy to Scotland.

One of the other arguments heard most often from unionists is that since Scotland gets more in 'identifiable' spending than the UK average of £7,000 per. head, we are therefore being subsidised by English taxpayers. This is twaddle, so please bear with me while I explain why:

1. The figure has nothing to do with whether Scotland is 'subsidised' or not, since it only deals with spending levels, not the amount of tax revenues raised in Scotland to cover it.

2. It excludes £74bn of 'unidentified' expenditure, most of which actually gets spent in London and the South East rather than Scotland.

3. The differences in English regional identifiable spending per. head are actually pretty big as well:

SCOTLAND - £8,265.
LONDON - £8,037.
WALES - £7,666.
North East - £7,689.
North West - £7,368.
Yorks & Humber - £6,829.
East Midlands - £6,248.
West Midlands - £6,676.
Eastern - £5,864.
South East - £5,959.
South West - £6,634.

With 1/12 of the UK population spread over 1/3 of the landmass, it should not come as a surprise that Scottish ‘identifiable’ spending is above the UK average. However, since London gets £1,000 more per. head than the UK average and the East Midlands £750 less, does this mean that the East Midlands is subsidising London?

Of course it doesn't, and for exactly the same reason that the figures tell us nothing at all about Scotland. But you don’t need to take my word for it. Here, in quotes, is what some prominent Scots have had to say about GERS since Ian Lang brought it into existence during his unlamented Viceroyship:

GERS – In Quotes:

‘I am disappointed that both you and the Chancellor have reservations about publishing the booklet I have had prepared and printed setting out the details of the government’s expenditure and revenue in Scotland. I judge that it is just what is needed at present in our campaign to maintain the initiative and undermine the other parties. This initiative could score against all of them'. Secretary of State for Scotland, Ian Lang, in a letter to the Prime Minister dated March 3, 1992.

‘Caution should be applied in the interpretation of the fiscal deficit. This is the difference between two large numbers, both of which are estimates and subject to large margins of error’. Dr John Rigg, Scottish Office Senior Economist, Autumn 1996.

‘The SNP claims the Scottish Office figures are distorted. The party has a point.’ The Economist, 26th October 1996.

‘Nationalists have a point when they allege the whole GERS exercise was designed to engender fear’. Alf Young, The Herald, 21/1/03.

‘Nationalist or Unionist, whether you trust GERS or not analysis to date reveals a budgetary balance that is not wildly out of line with contemporary experience in other economies in Europe’. Alf Young, The Herald, 21/1/03.

‘It tells us nothing, I would argue about the situation under independence’. Dr Andrew Goudie, Chief Economist, Scottish Executive, The Times, 21/1/03.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

You wait ages for a post...

...then 3 come along at once. Check out this news report on Labour's plans to replace Trident:

'Watch as Labour First Minister runs down a corridor to hide from journalists wanting to ask why he supports spending billions on nuclear weapons of mass destruction.'

The best bit comes around 1'30" into the clip, as a press officer tries to prevent the TV crew from filming the FM as he disappears away down the corridor. Somehow, I'm not convinced this is the sort of statesman-like image he would want to project to the world...

Nantucket Sleighride

A shrewd, perceptive and wise article on the BBC website today from Brian Walden. Well worth reading.

Organised Behaviour?

I've been a bit lax over the last week or so when it's come to updating my blog. It's not as if nothing's been happening worth commenting on - it's just I've been a bit preoccupied with studying for the latest instalment of my MBA - the Organisational Behaviour exam.

I should have sat it back in winter 2003 when I first started the course. But despite going to all the lectures, the exam clashed with a Caribbean cruise I was booked to do on P&O with Alan & Jan Roy (it was a dirty job, etc). Then what with job changes and some accompanying financial woes, the whole project kind of went on the back burner for a while, until I could get things sorted out.

Anyway, the deed is done, and there's nothing left to do except wait for the results, enjoy the festive season, and of course await the voluminous text for the Accounting unit which is bound to come my way early in the new year. Doubtless that will herald another few weeks of chasing the cat off my knee and trying to convince myself that the pub will still be there after the exam has finished!