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Friday, December 03, 2004


In the budget debate Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish National Party, said:

"Can [Mr Brown] explain why his boasts for the performance of the UK economy are not matched by the Scottish economy, where unemployment is significantly higher and growth significantly lower. Who is responsible for that failure? Is it the Chancellor or the hapless Scottish Executive?" Independent

The correct answer, which Gordon Brown cannot give, is that it is the Scottish Executive's. The growth rate of 3.5% achieved by the UK is really rather creditable by historic UK standards. Our growth rate of no more than 1.5% looks pretty sick by comparison & the only real different factor is Holyrood. One virtue of federation is that, by allowing different areas to try different solutions you find which works best. Unfortunately Holyrood's role here increasingly looks less like a Good Example than an 'Orrible Warning.

Since Gordon can't answer Alex's question truthfully he cannot then go on to castigate the SNP as they also deserve. Alex is an economist to trade & Jim Mather their economic spokesman has said some decent stuff but consistently the SNP have attacked the Executive for not spending enough (fisherman's subsidies, highland subsidies, small hospital subsidies, windmill subsidies, national grid subsidies) - all good populist stuff but ultimately damaging to the economy.

The SNP suffers from a split personality - most of it's activists are left wing but most of it's voters, particularly in the North East where they win, are right wing. I was in the audience during the TV debate for the Euro election when the SNP candidate said that SSP voters should vote SNP because "their policies are a copy of ours". The SSP's policies are economically insane, or as they put it "not costed". This may not do to much harm for a party that does not aspire to be more than a lobby for their own supporters, though even then it does some harm, but it would be a disaster in government.

Every poll shows that independece is neither popular nor a priority (an opinion with which I agree) & so long as our politicians cannot demonstrate a level of competence at least equal to Westminster it is unlikely that the Scots people will choose to be rid of Westminster. The SNP should concentrate on proving themselves fit for government first (fortunately for them & unfortunately for us the standard isn't high).

Thursday, December 02, 2004


The result of George Galloway's libel action may be a belated defeat for the Telegraph but overall it actually enhances the power of the press to lie whenever it wants by enhancing the traditional Reynold's defence (cica 1999).

Firstly, it yet again proves that it is an incredibly risky venture for any individual to try to get the media not to lie about them & George has shown great bravery in pushing this when all he had on his side was the truth. The judgement decided that the Telegraph's fault was not in publishing lies but in overegging the pudding by accusations such as treason. Had they not gone so blatantly over the top they would have won & George would have been bankrupted.

Theoretically this means that if I were, while randomly looking through a filing cabinet, to find an indecipherably signed document saying that Telegraph readers/left wingers/CND/Tory MPs/George Bush/traffic wardens were part of a pedophile ring/selling atomic secrets to the Albanians/shape shifting aliens (all of which it would be clearly in the public interest to know if it were true)it would be perfectly safe to publish this lie as long as I did it in a balanced way. This, of course, ignores the obvious fact that it is even more not in the public interest to be lied to on a matter of importance.

In practice, if you compare this with the LM magazine V ITN libel case where ITN (& the judge) accepted that LM's case that ITN had faked their notorious concentration camp video was proven but that LM hadn't proven that the faking was deliberate, it is quite obvious that the judiciary are likely to sum up for the big media.

In essence we have a situation where the victim has to put up 100s of thousands just to get to court & risk everything they own (unless they are as rich as Maxwell) in a case where the truth "doesn't matter" (quote from the ITN judge's summing up).

It is worth noting by comparison that the US Christian Science Monitor immediately settled & made a complete apology to George when they found it was untrue & in the LM case the article in question was purely a reprint of something already published in Germany - ITN decided they could sue under UK law but not German to suppress the truth. No wonder the British press has its unsavoury reputation when it is so thoroughly protected.

A point worth noting is that the press complaint's commission, who represent almost the entire press in their duty to "maintain the highest standards of the British press" have not had a word to say against this. Thus proving exactly how high the highest standards reach. (I have had runs in with the commission before & do not respect them)

Tuesday, November 30, 2004


A LIFEGUARD yesterday told how a pod of dolphins saved him, his teenage daughter and her friends from a great white shark off the northern New Zealand coast.

Rob Howes was swimming with the group of youngsters when they were surrounded by the dolphins.

The animals "started to herd us up. They pushed all four of us together by doing tight circles around us," Mr Howes said. When he tried to break away from the protective group, two of the bigger dolphins herded him back.

Mr Howes said he then spotted what he described as a 10ft great white shark cruising toward them, but the man-eater was apparently repelled by the ring of dolphins and swam away.

"It was only about two metres away from me. The water was crystal clear and it was as clear as the nose on my face," he said.

"They [the dolphins] had corralled us up to protect us."
..................................The swimmers spent the next 40 minutes in the water surrounded by the dolphins before they could make it back to shore.
Ingrid Visser, who has been studying marine mammals for 14 years, said that there had been reports from around the world of dolphins protecting swimmers.

She said that in this case the dolphins probably sensed the humans were in danger and took action to protect them.

Ms Visser, of the group Orca Research, said dolphins would attack sharks to protect themselves and their young.

Rochelle Constantine, an Auckland University marine mammal research scientist, said dolphins were usually vigilant in the presence of sharks.

The altruistic response of the dolphins was normal, she said.

"They like to help the helpless."
Scotsman 24th Nov

So how smart are dolphins? Well We can say that average dolphin intelligence is somewhere on the continuum between above-average human and peak dog, but we cannot say definitively where. which doesn't help a lot.

On the other hand
in 1962, several Lockheed Aircraft Corporation scientists erected a similar barrier across a channel, this time with stronger microphones. As the dolphins approached clicking noises were heard -- possibly sonar soundings. They gathered into a group in nearby shallow water about 400 feet from the barrier. During this time lots of clicks and squeaky-door sounds were recorded. A scout left the group and examined the barrier. When the dolphin returned he was greeted in the same manner as before. After about four minutes of conversation another scout was sent out. Upon his return he too was greeted with the explosion of whistles. After about two and a half minutes the dolphins merrily clicked through the barrier. Returning into the bay that afternoon, and the next morning leaving the bay, the pod did not send a scout when they came to the barrier.....nor did they even slow down.a> shows that the are able to communicate complicated ideas by language. It is difficult to say that a creature with a developed society able to discuss new ideas & cooperate in activities of only philosophical benefit (saving humans) is much less developed than most people you will meet.

On the other hand they have not only not developed technology or fire, which is not surprising since they have no hands & live underwater, but have not cooperated to the extent of exterminating their enemies. Human beings, with relatively little technology, cooperated to exterminate the sabre tooth tiger whereas sharks are still doing well.

On the third hand perhaps this just means that our brains in a way that allows us to make war on other species & each other whereas they have not achieved this.

In any case, until we know otherwise, perhaps we should extend the same legal protection to them as to hairless bipeds.

"Mankind thought they were the most intelligent creatures on Earth because they had invented war & New York & the dolphins thought they were for the same reason" Douglas Adams

Sunday, November 28, 2004


I thought this from REFORM worth reprinting here. The position in Scotland is even more severe in that over 50% of our GNP is spent in the public sector rather than 40% down south. The article also makes use of the effects of growth compounded over 25 years to make it's point about what we will lose in the future. Of course the 3.25% growth suggested, while good, is not spectacular by world economy standards. For those who do not appreciate the importance of long term growth try this with a good pocket calculator:

If, for the next century we grow at 2% (ie 1.02 to the power 100) our standard of living will increase (no I'm not going to tell you try it) times
If for the next century we grow at an average of 8% (ie 1.08 to the power 100) our standard of living will increase (try it) times.

Reform has published a new report, Costing Britain – falling productivity in the public sector, showing that the twin cost of poor public sector performance and a rising tax burden will reduce British living standards over the long-term. The report presents the evidence of falling productivity in the public sector and shows how this poor performance damages economic growth. The report suggests that the cost of poor public sector performance and rising taxes will amount to £6,000 a year foregone per person, or £14,400 per family, in 25 years’ time.

Click here (pdf, 320kb) to download the report. It finds that:

§ The UK public sector is undergoing a period of dramatic expansion. Between 1999-00 and 2007-08, public spending will increase by 40 per cent in real terms. By 2008-09, the tax burden is projected to reach its highest level for 24 years. Since 1998, the number of public sector jobs has increased three times as quickly as those in the private sector.

§ But these huge increases in resources have been committed without a robust measure of value for money. The evidence overwhelmingly suggests that public sector productivity performance is not only below the level of the private sector but actually falling in absolute terms.

§ Tax-and-spend policies have a twin negative impact on economic growth: the public sector achieves poor outputs and higher taxation reduces incentives to work. Conversely, reducing taxation and increasing public sector productivity growth, through public sector reform based on choice, competition and accountability, would have a dynamic positive impact on growth and living standards.

§ Unless policy is changed to improve public sector productivity and reduce the tax burden, the long-term cost to the economy will be immense.

§ On current policy, with zero public sector productivity growth (a generous assumption) and a rising tax burden, trend economic growth will fall to approximately 2.55 per cent per annum. If the UK were to average 2.55 per cent per annum real growth over the next 25 years, income per head would rise to £33,100 per annum in today’s prices.

§ But with an improvement in public sector productivity growth up to the current trend rate of the whole economy, and a reduction in the tax burden to the level of 1996-97, trend growth would rise to approximately 3.25 per cent per annum. If the UK were to average 3.25 per annum real growth over the next 25 years, income per head would rise to £39,100 per annum.

§ Therefore an improvement in public sector productivity growth and a reduction in the tax burden would mean an increase in incomes of £6,000 per capita, or £14,400 per household, per annum in 25 years’ time.

Commenting on the poll and the report Reform’s Director, Nick Herbert, said:

“Taxpayers are getting poor value from public spending increases. They are rightly concerned about waste and they are receptive to arguments that Britain needs lower taxes to remain competitive and raise living standards. But while the political parties continue to make spending commitments, and since none are making clear pledges to reduce taxation, it is not surprising that voters conclude that taxes will rise after the next election.”

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