Saturday, December 28, 2013

Know your onions

See the graph above. I've now decided that "onion farmer" is the one thing I will not permit my children to be. Surely if the price of onions varies from time to time, then the idea of making a living through growing and selling them becomes a ridiculous and unattainable dream? Let your heads rule your hearts, girls, I'll say. The notion that you might make a living through the propagation and sale of onions on a commercial basis, coping with price fluctuation by means of, say, some kind of budgeting exercise, is fantasy, pure and simple. Some dreams must simply remain unlived.

And don't let that fat liar Salmond tell you otherwise. Him and his madcap plans for allium husbandry. 


Thursday, December 26, 2013

The road not taken

Driving instructor: Good morning Mrs. Smith. You want to sign up for some lessons, I believe?
Mrs. Smith: That's right, yes.
Driving instructor: Great. OK, if we could first of all just....
Mr. Smith [muttering]: Bloody waste of time.
Driving instructor: I'm sorry?
Mr. Smith [loudly and challengingly]: I said: “Bloody waste of time”!
Mrs. Smith: Darling, we agreed that...
Mr. Smith: “Agreed”? Ha! I didn't agree anything. You didn't give me a chance. You just decided. [Muttering] I never get a say in anything any more.
Mrs. Smith: Darling, we agreed that I'd do this.
Mr. Smith: Yes yes. All right. Don't go on.
Mrs. Smith [to the instructor]: So where do I sign?
Driving instructor: If you could...
Mr. Smith: Are you saying I can't drive?

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Squillion Pound Black Hole

Black holes are really interesting, aren't they? “But I wonder”, I thought, “just how big black holes actually are? How 'big' is something so unimaginably dense that it sucks even light into itself? Is that really, really big or really, really small?” And then I thought “Where on earth am I going to find THAT out? What entity will possess the combination of wisdom, gravitas and expertise in matters astrophysical that I need?”

I thought, of course, of the two obvious answers but NASA was less than helpful, frankly. Their answer to the question “How big are black holes?” is: “Black holes can be big or small.” “OK”, I thought, “Better Together it is then”. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

A humbling tale of everyday folk

Better Together recently announced that it had received further donations, amounting to £1,121,000, from six donors. Blair MacDougall, campaign director, is reported in today's Sunday Herald as saying that “we know the money that we have managed to raise ourselves is dwarfed by the almost limitless funds available to the Nationalists”. He is said to have described himself as “humbled” by the actions of supporters who have managed to scrape together a donation in these “tough times”.

Tough times indeed. I was listening to Radio Scotland's Headlines this morning to stories of one person deemed fit to work despite the recent discovery of a cancerous tumour and another who had her benefit stopped because she'd mistakenly applied for only 27 jobs instead of the targetted 28 (and this seems to be that woman's own story). And we are of course all in it together. So, who are the generous heroes, willing to hand over cash even when faced with these kinds of mind-numbing stresses and pressures? Who are the selfless six, fired by a sense of injustice, who will stand up for the poor and downtrodden against the vile Nationalist onslaught? Just how horrific are the stories of personal hardship and sacrifice that so moved even an old cynic like Blair?

Monday, November 25, 2013

Stemming the tide

Youngest child: Daddy! I can't sleep. Will you tell me a story?
Daddy: Of course. Love to.
YC: Come on then.
Daddy: Hang on. I'm trying to find Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
YC: Oh no, please. Not that one. It gives me the creeps in more ways than I have time to explain.
Daddy: To be fair, I know what you mean. So. What's it to be?
YC: Well, I did say "tell" not "read". Would you tell me a story? Remember it. Maybe even make it up. At least embellish on one half-remembered from your own childhood. Like a proper parent.
YC: Well?
Daddy: Em...ok. I don't see why not.
YC: Well?
Daddy: Hang on. I'm thinking.
Daddy: Did you have one in mind?
YC: Can it be ANY story in the WHOLE WIDE WORLD?
Daddy: Of course it can.
YC: Oh BRILLIANT! My most favourite story in the whole wide world is the one about that man. That man from a land by the sea. That powerful man. Powerful, but not as powerful as he thought he was or wanted others to think he was. That man who was so puffed up and carried away with his own sense of self-importance that he lost touch with reality. He was so silly that he thought he could stop things from happening when he couldn't stop them at all. He thought he was so powerful that he could stop things over which he simply had no control. Not just no control, in fact. Not even any influence. But still, he said he would stop them. Insisted that he could, and would, stop them.  And when he did say he would stop those things, and when he did try, everyone could see how silly he was and they laughed and laughed at him. Laughed and laughed.
Daddy: Ah! I like that one too. But do you know? The funny thing is that actually King Canute didn't think he could stop the sea. He knew that he couldn't. He was commanding it to stop so as to show his courtiers that there were limits to what even a King could command.
YC: No. Not that silly, deluded man from a land by the sea who everyone knows isn't as powerful as he thinks and who threatens to do things he simply doesn't have the power to do. The other one. Carwyn Jones.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Hold fast, comrades, in the face of the coming onslaught

Ruth Davidson really did drill down forensically to the nub of things when she announced, presumably to a stunned and sombre audience:

"The SNP simply cannot guarantee that we'd still get Dr Who after independence."

(It was that "simply" that was particularly devastating. Plain-talking, exasperated Ruth telling it like it is.)

Well she's right. That fat liar Salmond simply cannot guarantee that we'd still get Dr. Who after independence. Or
that we'd still get the Clangers after independence. Or that we won't stop getting Dr. Who anyway. It's happened before. Or of course that we won't be invaded by actual Daleks. Or actual Clangers.

However, I still think we can do better than Ruth's sad counsel of despair. It's back to deductive versus inductive reasoning. They "get Dr Who" in Angola, Botswana, Myanmar, Uruguay and elsewhere. The BBC wants the world to see its programming. Hence the World Service. Britain wants to project soft power. We own part of the bloody BBC.

So, on balance, I think we'll get Dr Who. I also think we won't get invaded by actual Daleks. However, I am prepared to accept that neither outcome is guaranteed.

And so, then, it comes to this: courage. Courage, my friends. There will be many dark and difficult days like these ahead, as the ruthless British state unleashes its mighty arsenal against us. Take heart that it feels compelled to deploy its big guns, like the "You simply cannot guarantee that we'd still get Dr Who after independence" argument, so early in the campaign. Look, and see. Have hope. For they falter! They falter!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Unexpected comedy hypnotism - tickets still available

I still think that George Galloway's bravura performance before the US Senate Sub-Committee on Investigations, facing down the turncoat Norm Coleman , was one of the most engrossing, exhilarating and ultimately gratifying exchanges between two human beings that I will ever see. I'd certainly have paid money to be in the room. On the other hand, I grew up in Dundee and I remember George. I'd not, even it was him paying me, sit in a hall listening to him explain his reasons for opposing Scottish independence. However, I may have misunderstood his offering. If his "Just Say Naw Tour" is in fact not an exercise in pompous, self-regarding windbaggery but a series of evenings of "comedy hypnotism" (and from the URL at Groupon, it seems that it is), and if you can still get two tickets at half price (and it seems that you can), then I  just might actually think about it.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Creation myth

God: There you go.
Norway: Oh. Ok.
God: Is that all?
Norway: What do you mean?
God: What do you mean "What do you mean?"? I mean that a bit of thanks might be  nice, for all that lot.

Norway: Allright, I know. I said thanks. I'm particularly grateful that you've blessed us with the bounty of a lot of whatever is going to be left over from the anaerobic decomposition of buried dead organisms...
God: Oil.
Norway: Right. Oil. Though I'm not sure what people are going to do with that, to be honest.
God: They'll think of something.
Norway: Really?
God: I think it might burn really well.
Norway: Oh. Ok. that it?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Why did the banks become Scottish only after they failed?

Here's one for you. What do Andy Murray, HBOS and RBS have in common? Answer: it can appear to a cynic that whether they're Scottish or British depends on how well they're doing at the time. With Andy, listening to the BBC from time to time can be a bit irritiating but it's more amusing than anything else. But the banks? That's a more serious issue altogether.

The banks were wholly regulated from London. 90% of RBS and HBoS UK employees were based outwith Scotland. 90% of employers' income tax was paid to Westminster, and not counted as Scottish or Scottish Government revenue. 90% of the banks' national insurance contributions were paid to Westminster and not counted as Scottish. 80% of the losses of RBS were generated from the bank's London based operations. RBS paid £16 billion in corporate taxes to the UK government from 1998 to 2007. None of this was counted as Scottish Government revenue.

So if all the Government revenues associated with the banking operations in the boom years were added to the UK balance sheet, why should all the losses in the bust years suddenly become only Scotland's problem?

Bailouts are not matters of altruism but reflect the harm that will be done to a country (loss of employment and so on) if an enterprise fails. The location of headquarters has nothing to do with it. The name of a company or its historic origins have even less to do with it. Barclays was bailed out to the tune of £552.32bn (at backdated exchange rates) by the US Federal Reserve and £6bn by the Qatari Government. Or to put it another way, foreign governments bailed out Barclays to the tune of more than twelve times more money than the UK Government’s capital support for RBS (£45bn).

As an independent country, our contribution to bailing out the banks would have been roughly the same amount as we paid as part of the UK – about 10%.

For more, see the Business for Scotland analysis here and here.

Monday, October 28, 2013

What do the mibbees think?

There was lots of really interesting stuff about general attitudes in the Wings over Scotland poll. One part was about the views of people who said they were certain to vote (8 or more on a scale of 10) in the referendum but had not yet made their minds up which way: in other words, the so far undecided. What effect had the independence campaign had on them, so far? Had it made them more likely to vote yes, or no, or made no difference?

(Full sample)

Much more Yes: 4
Slightly more Yes: 32
No change: 54
Slightly more No: 8
Much more No: 2

There was fascinating analysis of what the don't-yet-knows think about various things that would explain why they're tending, by nearly 4:1, to Yes. The (as ever) readable analysis is spread over a few posts herehere , here , here , here , here , here and here. The raw data can be downloaded here .

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Long-term thinking

Everyone agrees that an oil fund would be a good idea, in principle. But an oil fund is something to build over many decades, to leave something for our children and theirs. The occasional fluctuation in price, month to month, is irrelevant. If only we could somehow form some idea of what oil prices are likely to do, long term. How on earth can we know what is going to happen, over decades, to the price of a vital, finite resource for which the modern world thirsts?

Update: as at 10 October 2013,  Brent Crude was trading at just over $111 a barrel. Check the current price here.

Peer pressure

Someone recently swore blind to me that "Lord" Foulkes' elevation to the peerage was the result of deliberate appointment rather than, as I'd assumed, the reluctant acceptance of some sort of "Who Do You Think You Are?" revelation of an unexpected aristocrat in his ancestral cupboard. I find that really, really hard to believe.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Against whom?

This is a video of the debate at Abertay University a couple of weeks ago where there was a huge swing to Yes amongst the audience after the debate. Frankly, you can see why. There's a brilliant exchange at 54m00s onwards. One student says she's worried: "What if Scotland was to get invaded by, I don't know, Iraq or Afghanistan?". She says we'd be too wee to fight the invader off. Everyone, as seems to be de rigeur these days, listens respectfully to the baloney. However, the unrestrained relief and joy of the audience is palpable when the next questioner (who sounds American but is a first year student and who can't have planned his contribution) can't help himself and says:

"A few points. I want, not to be personal or anything, but maybe just to say something about the defence issue that just came up. [Pause]. In what world would any country decide to attack Scotland? [Laughter] [Applause]. The only country that would attack Scotland [Pause]. Is England. [Laughter] Any country that attacked Scotland, other than England, would be attacked. [Pause] By England. [Pause] And America. And France. And Germany. And Norway. And, I'm pretty sure, quite a few other countries. So, the issue of defence is non-existent."

It's impossible to put it more clearly. Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings. Do watch Stuart Hosie though as he's very good too.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

In re GB v EU (part 2)

The proposed bankers' bonus cap is not the only threat that the plucky Chancellor is going to law to see off. Brussels bureaucrats plan to inflict yet another tax on the hard pressed, hard working families of Great Britain. The plan is to introduce a "financial transaction tax".

Q: Good grief! A tax on every transaction. That'll be ruinous won't it? We already pay vat at 20%. What rate are the idiots proposing?
A: A range. Between 0.01% and 0.1%.
Q: Well, ok, but still. Why should I have to pay the bloated, bungling Brussels bureaucrats even a penny?
A: You won't.
Q: What?
A: There's an exemption for the day-to-day financial activities of citizens.
Q: Ah yes, but what about the day-to-day financial activities of our hard-pressed businesses, smart arse?
A: They're exempt too.
Q: What?
A: They're exempt too.
Q: How do you mean?
A: They're exempt too.
Q: Well, ok, but what about non-day-to-day transactions. What about business investment, banking activities in the context of raising capital?
A: They're exempt too.
Q: Right. What about businesses that are in trouble and are trying to save themselves and the jobs of all those who work in them? What about transactions carried out as part of restructuring operations?
A: They're exempt too.
Q: Oh ffs. Really?
A: Yes. Would you like me to explain what it does apply to?
Q: That'd be good, yes.
A: Essentially, not the real economy but to the exchange of shares, bonds and derivative contracts.
Q: Well, ok. But what's the point?
A: The revenue raised would be between €16.4bn and €43.4bn per year, or 0.13% to 0.35% of GDP. If the tax rate is increased to 0.1%, total estimated revenues would be between €73.3bn and €433.9bn.
Q: Well, on reflection, that all sounds ok. I don't think a 0.01% tax is going to put anyone off doing anything, ever. Certainly not a bond trader. Why's it not happening again?
A: Because the UK is going to law to stop it.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

In re GB v EU (part 1)

As we all know, the culture of bonuses was blamed for encouraging excessive risk-taking amongst bankers. The EU voted 26 to 1 to cap bankers' bonuses. The "cap" will ensure that bonuses are slashed to a swingeing...err...100% of salary. That'll work. Who can imagine a banker deciding to take a risk simply to double his salary?

Anyway, no need to guess who the "1" was? More bankers earn over £1m in the UK than everywhere else in the EU COMBINED. So, to protect this vital interest, the United Kingdom government is going to court.

The expected cost to the tax payer in legal fees is £1m.

It's not all about identity. But if it was...

I don't normally care about this kind of thing but thought it's interesting. The reason it's interesting is the often-made claim that lots of people are comfortable being Scottish AND British. Firstly, no doubt they are. So am I. But the arguments being made are grown-up ones about governance, social justice and economic prosperity, not flags, and if you can be Scottish and British in a British state (which you can) you must be able to be Scottish and British in a Scottish state. Like you could be Norwegian and Scandinavian both before and after Norwegian independence from Sweden. I feel more of an affinity with someone from Dublin than someone from France (or, for that matter Norway or the US) but so what?

But anyway, and in any event, the next part of the 2011 census results are out today. Given the choice, 62% described themselves as "Scottish only". Just 18% said "Scottish and British". As I say, doesn't matter to me but I'll bear it in mind next time the point is taken.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Again with the oil

A report from the industry body, Oil & Gas UK, contains so much detailed, independent, positive analysis that even the Telegraph says that " the bullish assessment will raise the profile and importance of North Sea oil and gas in the independence debate and provide [Yes Scotland] with more economic leverage [and that].. the fresh lease of life projected in today's analysis provides a considerable boost".

Where to start?

• North Sea investment this year will be the biggest and most extensive for 30 years.

• Producers say they are ready to embark on the biggest exploration programme for six years. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Pensioned off

An interesting table showing comparative pension entitlements in various countries.

Pensions and welfare spending represents a lower proportion of Scotland’s GDP than that of the UK – 14.4% for Scotland and 15.9% for the UK in 2011-12.

Over the next 40 years, the pension age population in the UK is projected to rise by 48%. In Scotland, the projection is 37%.

Scotland raises 9.9% of the UK's tax for Westminster but gets back only 9.3% in public spending. The difference amounted to £4.4bn last year. There's been a similar surplus relative to the UK over the last 30 years, amounting to a total of £19bn.

Amongst the many other things independence would allow us to do, we can well afford safer and fairer pensions for our elderly.

Moving to Yes

This is the kind of thing I've now seen loads of times. There's an audience and a vote of who's Yes, No or don't know. There's then a debate. After that, there's a fresh vote. I have never yet seen there be anything but a big swing to yes. At Abertay, there were 200 first year students. Before the debate, 59% were No and 21% Yes. After it, 51% were Yes and 38% No. That's a 25% swing.

I have never - not once - read of the opposite happening: of the No vote increasing after a debate. When people hear the arguments and engage in the debate, they move to Yes.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Uncertain emotions force an uncertain smile

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Back to the future

So. Just how good are Her Majesty's Government at predicting future oil prices?

Turns out, not very. Really not very, at all. You'd almost think they were doing it deliberately.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Reasons to vote no: junkie dogs

Wonder what the best reason for voting one way or the other in the referendum I hear will be. The one the guy beside me on the train gave a minute ago will take some beating. He's a no. Because we'd be left with all the junkies and Salmond is spending £2m (he was very specific) on dogs for all the junkies. I think he might be getting mixed up with dementia sufferers, but anyway. 

Saturday, July 13, 2013

"Res ipsa loquitor". I think. Maybe "Quod erat demonstrandum"

Alex Salmond (in a small part of a very reasoned speech) says that the broadcast media try to be fair but the press in Scotland is "heavily stacked against independence" (and, in other breaking news, bears, woods, Pope, Roman Catholic etc).

The Times reports this as Salmond "lashing out" in an "unprecedented attack on the press". It's all terrible, what with "
him and his plans for separation".
"Irony" isn't the right word but what ever it is, it's that.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The law of debt

The temptation might be to laugh at this headline but you have to understand why. Dr. Qvortrup is no nationalist patsy. As he points out, international law and actual precedent says that where two countries disengage, and one of them insists that it's the successor country, then it (the successor country) keeps the debts as well as, say, existing treaty rights. The rough with the smooth. So, if the UK says it's going to play hardball and that only it is the successor state in, say, the EU, then the UK can keep its debt. If Scotland is to be an entirely new country it starts from scratch, with its own resources but nothing else. That would be consistent. That's what happened when Ireland left: they didn't pay a penny (AND they kept using sterling in a monetary union with the UK).

The point is that this is what Scotland has to negotiate with. And though it's obvious to us all that Scotland would want to negotiate, not seek to walk away, we have to realise that the corollary is that the UK would equally do the same. All this nonsense about no sterling zone and exclusion from the EU is just that. Ultimately, as a matter of law, we are entirely entitled to say "OK. We tried but you're not being fair. We're off. With the oil and leaving you with the debt." Equally, the UK could agree to such a deal. However, neither side would want that, because it would harm both, which is why it won't happen. The UK could certainly decide to take a stance on things that would harm us (for example, make life difficult with the Bank of England) but this would harm them too. The UK government doesn't want us to leave and for that reason will say, now, that it might do X or wouldn't have to do Y but that's part of the campaign and we need to see through it. They won't cut off their nose to spite our face. But, another way of looking at it is to realise that we could always say "OK. So be it. Then we'll do Z". Like tell you to stuff your debt, take the oil and watch as there's a run on sterling.

We have a very strong negotiating hand. Before you start thinking about Trident.

A vulgar diversion

I know. Sorry. But I feel I've kind of earned the right to post it on the basis of the man-hours involved alone. You would not BELIEVE how many languages there are in the world.

The big picture

Oil & Gas UK, the independent offshore industry body, estimate that there are more than 24 billion barrels of oil and gas equivalent to be recovered from the North Sea and that of that 90% (85% of gas) lie within Scottish waters. The Scottish/English maritime border would be determined by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and no-one seriously disputes that this would mean an independent Scotland inheriting the vast bulk of this resource (see for example, Vince Cable recently).

So, lets say 22 billion barrels. That puts us in the top-20 oil producing countries. So how do we compare with  some of the others?

Iraq (pop. 33 million) 143 
Kuwait (pop. 4 million) 102 
Russia (pop. 143 million) 74 
Libya  (pop. 7 million) 47 
United States (pop. 316 million) 27 
China (pop. 1,325 million) 20 
Brazil (pop. 194 million) 13

So, we've got nothing like Kuwait but for a country of 5.5m to have reserves that are proportionately (by population) comparable to those held by Iraq, approaching a third of Russian and half of Libyan reserves, about the same as the US and actually more than Brazil, and China makes the point: we have a LOT of oil.

This debate is about what's best for our children, and theirs, and what we can do to leave them something better than we have now. A fairer society and a more prosperous country. International dialling codes and the price of parcel delivery are, to be charitable, details to sort out later. Let's not lose sight of the big picture.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Black holes and white lies

Another day, another "black hole" (though I see the online version is a lot more restrained). Surely the No side will have to start upping their game on the astro-physical-metaphor front. Plans for defence found full of anti-matter particles, or not to contain any Higgs bosons, maybe.

Anyway, here's what ICAS actually said.

And here's their (pretty bemused sounding) executive director, David Wood, on Good Morning Scotland (links last a week, I think) (2.09.00 onwards) . He said the biggest problem would be if no-one thought about pensions, at all, before the referendum. Forgot about them altogether. I'm sure that would be a problem but I don't think it's one he suggested was likely. The other problem (and the one about which the Scotsman was dissembling) was that, on independence, "pan-UK" pension schemes would become cross-border schemes and subject to the EU cross border rules. No, me neither but he was asked whether there were not lots of existing cross border schemes. Turns out that, yes, of course, there are. Then, this exchange:

"Q: But wouldn't it be as simple as splitting the pension fund into two bits, one for Scotland and one for the rest of the UK, and just carrying on as before....?

A: Yup. That is...that is exactly right."

He then said that there should be some planning for that, by companies, in advance, before September next year and ICAS were just trying to highlight that so companies weren't taken by surprise.

So, an important administrative task but one of the most puzzled sounding interviewees I've ever heard. And "black hole" is just, simply...inaccurate.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Minding the Gap

Glenn Campbell has a strange job, doesn't he? He seems to have been appointed to roam the globe and conduct as many partial, misleading interviews with as many foreign dignatories as will speak to him, ask them a few leading questions, report the bits of their answers he likes, ignore the rest, then move on. The subtext is that those he is speaking to are disinterested bystanders to the referendum debate. So, if they can't say for certain that X is true, why that awful Alex Salmond must be lying when he says he believes that it is. So, this morning in his interview with Kurt Volker, the former US ambassador to Nato, it was quietly accepted that NATO would have enormous goodwill to an independent Scotland. However, the fact that its members would have to agree to admit us as members, after a Yes vote, was juxtaposed with Salmond's stated "certainty" that they would do so, in such a way as to suggest that he was being misleading. The unspoken assumption is that if we don't know, with absolute certainty, that X is true then we must assume X to be false.

But that is, frankly, bunkum. We're adults. We're used to dealing with something less than absolute certainty. This goes all the way back to the difference between deductive and inductive reasoning. I cannot be certain that the sun will rise tomorrow but I would be an idiot if I structured my affairs, each day, assuming there was a realistic chance it wasn't going to. A clever primary school child, finding its intellectual feet, might think it a clever argument to ask "Yes, but how do you know X to be true?" As adults, we ought to be past that stage, particularly if we are going to be permitted to vote.

It is on one view a curse of geography that Scotland lies at the southern end of a naval choke point. The Iceland Gap is the link between the countries of northern Europe and the Atlantic Ocean. The clue is in the name. The idea that the "North Atlantic Treaty Organisation" would refuse an application for membership from the nation sitting to the south of the Iceland Gap is preposterously ridiculous. A fair, balanced item would have involved Glenn asking someone versed in international relations what their view of things was, not repeating sonorously that "all" members of NATO would have to decide whether to admit us or not, as if there was the slightest chance that they would not. As Salmond, said, NATO's concern would be if we were not members.

Our strategic position is precisely the reason why we could never hope, even if we wanted, to follow Ireland's example of neutrality. We would only be neutral like Iceland was in the Second World War: nominally and briefly, before swift occupation.

And I've always liked Ken Macdonald's imagining of Salmond's response to the postulated snub from the NATO representative. Salmond pauses. He says "I see. OK. Can you hang on while I make a quick call". He dials, then says: "Hello. Is that the Chinese premier?"

Monday, March 11, 2013

State hedging of oil price risks

OK. So what it seems to come down to is this: the oil price cannot be predicted years in advance with absolute certainty. Let's agree that the price of oil varies from time to time. So what do you do? Do you give up any aspiration because uncertainty equals hopeless, unmanageable chaos? No. Lack of absolute certainty is nothing like the same as being powerless. That's the counsel of the coward. Most independent analyses of the world economy, and the oil industry's own spending, suggest the price is only going to go up. I remember a few years back someone (I think it might have been "Doctor" John Reid) wisely pointing out that the days of the giddy heights of $50 a barrel would never be seen again. It's now $91.40. That's in the midst of a world recession. As and when the economy recovers, demand for oil will grow. New discoveries, in the US and elsewhere, are expected to "keep a lid on the price" , as a welcome a counter-balance against a price explosion.

Still, you can't know for sure, I accept. So what does the sensible government do?

Simple. It hedges.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Too rich, too small, too stupid

The Herald: "SCOTLAND'S payments to the European Union could rise from £124 million to £673m under independence, official figures suggest."

Me: Oh no! That's awful. Why?

The Herald: "An independent Scotland, with oil reserves, would become the third richest country in the EU in terms of GDP per head. "


Me: OK. I see. But...

The Herald: "It is feared this would push up payments."

Me: Yes I get that bit but isn't....

The Herald: "It is said payments would rise as an independent Scotland, with oil reserves, would be among the wealthiest EU countries in terms of GDP per head. Only the Netherlands and Luxembourg would be better off. "

Me: Yes, yes, ok. But isn't being wealthy good and paying more into the EU a sign of, and a result of, being wealthy? And a good and proper thing, too. What you're doing is like telling someone they'd be a fool to take a better job, with a massive pay rise, because they'd have more tax to pay. Are you not, for some reason I can't grasp, searching for a way to present what is essentially an argument for independence as an argument against it? Perhaps in the hope people won't read past your headline?

Friday, March 1, 2013

Separation anxiety

A 19.5% swing to UKIP at Eastleigh. In the words of Nick Robinson, they'd have won if they'd just thought it possible. By God, they'll think it possible now. Ladbrokes will this morning give you evens - evens! - on the Great British public voting for separation from the EU before 2018. If you're a betting person I'd grab those odds now.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Danish comparison

Gordon Brewer and Newsnight Scotland picked up where Raymond Buchanan left off on Good Morning Scotland this morning. It's taken it upon itself to have a dig at the Yes campaign's comparisons with Denmark by pointing out that Danish taxes are high. So what? Danish taxes are high because that's what Danes vote to do with their national wealth. We could do the same or we could do something different. The point of the comparison is about their wealth, not how fairly they choose to share it out. They are comparable to us, in size and resources. They are a wealthy, successful country with, as it happens, some of the happiest citizens in the world.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013


I'd seen it suggested, before the Bank of England floated the idea today, that setting negative interest rates would be a way to encourage lending and spending. Reading up this evening, I saw Denmark actually set a rate of -.2%, in July last year. Surprising, I thought. Denmark is a small, northern European country, with tremendous renewable energy reserves, a sensible defence force, decent social provision, an educated populace and so on - just like we would be. If its economy is a basket case like the UK's, I thought, then why hasn't Alistair Darling been bellowing about it before now? So I checked. The reason Denmark set negative interest rates is because its currency (yes - it doesn't use the Euro but pegs the Danish krone) is so strong, and so attractive to investors who are piling into it that its strength needs to be curbed. Precisely the situation the McCrone report, in the 1970s, would arise with a Scottish pound.

Another one bites the dust

Monday, February 25, 2013

It's oil ok

If I understood Alistair Darling on Good Morning Scotland this morning, he was telling a, to be fair, incredulous BBC reporter that having unimaginably vast oil wealth would be a problem for an independendent Scotland because the price goes up and down. In fact, the ratings agencies made it clear some time ago that the UK would have been downgraded long ago, due to its tanking economy and enormous debt, were it not for the fact that it had sufficient assets (that is, oil) to compensate.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The perfect blog post

I hope it's not just me. Assuming not, sometimes, whatever you are doing in life, you see someone else doing the same thing but doing it so fluently, so persuasively, so articulately and so ineffably better than you could ever hope to do that you are overcome with an almost overwhelming urge to jack the whole thing in. To choose a target that has left others feeling vaguely uneasy but unsure how to respond, to do your research well, to pick apart your opponent's claims and to do so concisely and in a way that will leave any sensible reader helpless with laughter. To do all that would, you might think, result in the best ever blog post. And you'd be right.  

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Lies, damned lies and how to spin the objective

What's a reporter to do when presented with set of figures to work with? You can't spin the objective, can you? Of course you can, and it's so easy that we can miss it when it's done:

"FEWER than a third of Scots support independence, while almost half want to stay in the UK"
(The Scotsman) .

Crikey! Almost a half. 

Hang on. "Almost" a half? That's not enough, is it? Not in a two horse race. How about:

"ALMOST a third of Scots support independence, while fewer than half want to stay in the UK"

Genuinely, particularly as the movement in this series of polls was away from the no side, is not the noteworthy fact that fewer than 50% of Scots want to stay in the UK?

Now, of course, that would be misleading too, for a different reason but it would be consistent with the constant refrain that "less than a third" want independence. That suggests 70% oppose it. We know we are in a two horse race so if you are using the polls as a predictor of the outcome you have to strip out the don't knows. That gives the yes side around 41%, before you start wondering whether the don't knows are likely to fall on one side rather than the other. Only a few points more and it'd be "nearly half" in anyone's language.

Game on, I'd say.

Monday, February 4, 2013

The voice of liberal England

I think Steve Bell's cartoon was the Guardian's Hillsborough moment: the point at which a paper lost a core section of its natural demographic, for ever. I have bought the Guardian for 30 years, through the miners' strike, the Falklands War, the Lawson boom, Blair, Mandelson and the rest. I remember telling a friend in Ealing who took the Telegraph that I didn't know anyone who read it and her saying the same about me and the Guardian.  It's all genuinely upsetting, like realising someone you thought an old friend never liked you that much. The wisest words I have yet read about the sorry affair:

"If I think it would be against your interests to break a failing relationship with me, would I succeed by telling you to ‘go fuck yourself’? If I did, would you take it as a ‘joke’ or even a ‘commentary’? You might, rather, take it as further proof about the state of our relationship.
We don’t want to find ourselves in a situation where we cannot laugh at ourselves or are beyond satire. But this is satire so broad and so ugly that it sails across the line into offensiveness. Why would The Guardian ‘satirise’ a country simply wanting to make its own decisions anyway? The aims of the Scottish independence movement – social justice, protection of public services, opposition to Conservatism – are the same ones which The Guardian themselves espouse. Can we imagine a mainstream Scottish newspaper, or even a website such as this one, running a slogan which says, ‘England Should Go Fuck Itself’? Can we imagine The Guardian saying such a thing about India, China or France?"

Credit where it's due - sort of

You have to be fair. Scotland on Sunday ran a piece at the weekend which went some way to redressing the relentlessly anti-independence message of most of their coverage.

The essay by Jim McColl, chairman of Clyde Blowers is broadly supportive of independence and sets out the business or economic case for it:

Different question, different answer? Yes, but...

It's all pretty simple really. The SNP won the last election. It, then, gets to choose what question it wants to ask in any referendum it wants to hold. It is neither unfair nor biased to frame the question other than their political opponents would have asked had they been holding a referendum. I can't see what grounds I would have had to complain if Johann Lamont (or Wendy Alexander for that matter) proposed to ask the country "Do you want Scotland to leave the United Kingdom and be a separate state?" That would be up to her and she'd not owe me, as an opponent, any duty at all in the framing of the question.

Monday, January 28, 2013

BBC: "ridiculous" and "bizarre"?

The Telegraph today reports that the BBC has described as "ridiculous" and "bizarre" Fiona Hyslop's complaint on Sunday Politics that the Corporation misrepresented the views of Ireland's Minister for European Affairs, Lucinda Creighton. On the programme, Ms. Creighton was shown, again, saying the words attributed to her, as if the complaint was that she hadn't said them. That's not the complaint. You do not need to make something up in order to misrepresent someone's views. You just don't report the important bits. The bits you don't like. Or you miss out any qualifications to what you do report.

And that is just what Ms. Creighton herself says was done. She has written to Nicola Sturgeon to say that she is "concerned that an interview which I conducted with the BBC is being misconstrued" and "sincerely regret[s]" that her comments "seem to have been...presented out of context".

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Reporting Scotland exclusive: "Time is linear", explains Irish minister

The genius, Albert Einstein, postulated that there are no instantaneous reactions in nature and that therefore there must be a maximum possible speed for any reaction, which is the speed of light in a vacuum. Most of us scientists accept the theory nowadays so I was puzzled by the prominence given by the BBC to the fact that Ireland's European affairs minister, Lucinda Creighton, said (in answer to a question asked by the BBC's own reporter) that an independent Scotland's application to register with the EU would "take time" to go through. I can't quibble with that and in fact wouldn't even claim that it would be as quick as the speed of light in a vacuum.

What she actually said was:
"...there would be an application and a negotiation process, as there is for any candidate country...I don't see why it would be a terribly complex process...negotiations for membership are always painstaking and they're always complex, but I don't see why it would be difficult...I think that it would certainly lead to accession at the end of the process. But it would take time."

It. Would. Certainly. Lead. To. Accession.

Who'd have thought that Reporting Scotland would miss a scoop like that? You'd almost think they had some kind of agenda. Thank goodness for the reassuring  balance provided by Call Kaye and Eleanor Bradford.