Thursday, March 31, 2005

Brainy Models

In Glasgow we get this free tabloid on the buses and the underground. This wee story's funny:

A TV SHOW in Slovenia that aimed to prove models were bimbos had to be cancelled - after the girl they selected was found to have an IQ of 156.

Iris Mulej, 22, a former Miss Universe contestant who left school at 16 to be a model, was put through a series of logic tests by scientists.

'The programme makers are now wondering if they can do a different programme about the world's smartest model,' said the model's agent.
I shared this story with my fourth years. One boy immediately grasped the feminist issue behind this story and promptly asked, "Is there a picture of her?"

Um, no - 'fraid not...

Update: From John B we now have a photo:

Poverty and Inequality in Britain: 2005

I was going to comment about this - until I spotted that this gentleman has already done so with his customary skill and precision. If there are still any Modern Studies teachers reading this blog, and if you're doing the Income and Wealth section in the Higher, this is well worth a careful read.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

We're all doooooomed!

According to this, that is:
"This report is essentially an audit of nature's economy, and the audit shows we've driven most of the accounts into the red," commented Jonathan Lash, the president of the World Resources Institute.
I've probably never taken the environmental issue as seriously as it deserves and, I would have to confess, the reasons for this aren't at all rational: I first became aware of environmental issues through primary school and television. As it was the 1970s, the customary 25 year forecast fitted rather neatly with the millennium. Now, perhaps my memory has exaggerated it but the general impression I took was that by the year 2000, we'd be all dead or at best choking for breath on a desolate, parched landscape, barely able to scratch a living from a burned-out top soil.

It really involves no exaggeration (I was only 9 or 10) to say this terrified me; I couldn't believe my father's nonchalance, for example, at the destruction of the Rain Forests (which they were forecasting would happen in 2000, of course). I distinctly remember going around the house to check if we had enough plants so that at least the family would still be able to breathe.

Now, I don't want to be a flat earther and I know that there's ample and mounting evidence of global warming but dammit, these tree-huggers unnecessarily terrified a young child and I think it's their bloody fault if I now treat some of the more apocalyptic warnings with a dose of skepticism and I want an apology if I'm going to take all this greeny stuff on board (I did say this wasn't rational).

Which reminds me: one of my erstwhile colleagues (who was partial to a bit of recycling, energy-saving and general environmental do-gooding) was banging on about disposable nappies. Being slightly more realistic and somewhat less self-righteous than the average tree-hugger, she acknowledged that the average parent wouldn't necessarily have time (or, in my case, the inclination) to wash nappies, so she was suggesting tax incentives or some other boring idea for companies that would provide this service.

I had a better idea: all the childless, leisured souls who have got nothing better to do than pontificate about land-fill sites and the like can feckin' shut their gobs, get the finger out and wash everyone else's nappies if they feel so strongly about it. It's a win-win situation: they get to save the planet; we get clean nappies and a bit of respite from their sanctimonious whining.

Needless to say, this idea didn't go down well. Maybe it was all the swearing but in fairness (to me), I'd only had about 5 hours sleep in the last 36 hours.

Then there's cyclists: Nazi cyborgs the lot of them! But that's another irrational rant I'll need to leave for another day; medication time...

TES Staffroom

Post deleted.

English School Dinners

Must be really minging.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Enough Galloway already

I wonder if Georgy-boy ever does vanity searches on Google; if he does, it must be good for his ego because he takes up an inordinate amount of "column inches" in the blogsphere.

Take Johann Hari for example, who has another pop at him here - finishing his article with the warning that, "The RESPECT Coalition might dupe some decent left-wing people, but Labour activists should not be mistaken: this is - to a significant degree - a party of the totalitarian-right." This comes to the attention of Harry's Place, who plug Johann's piece using (I've just noticed) the same exert I've just quoted. Also, David Aaronovitch has a fairly pointless quiz at the end of his piece in the Guardian today.

Meaders, on the other hand, doesn't agree and certainly would not be campaigning for someone if he thought they belonged to the "totalitarian right".

For me, his status as a complete tube has never been in doubt but it's hardly worth repeating the case against Galloway because no one who wasn't convinced before is unlikely to be now. Instead, I'll restrict myself to make a couple of points that aren't often made in discussions about my erstwhile constituency MP, which some people really ought to take on board:

1) While I agree (largely) with those who think that Galloway was and is wrong about the Middle East in general and Iraq in particular - it's a mistake to think that he is not sincere. George is a believer - and the failure to grasp this is what is behind the string of libel cases he's won. In Glasgow, we've heard it all before: he was, as General Secretary of War on Want accused of misusing funds - but was later cleared by an independent audit.

Perhaps his critics south of the border were unaware of this but for what ever reason, I've been surprised that more care hasn't been taken in some of the stories that have been circulated about him. For example, I don't believe for a minute that the reason Galloway didn't join the SSP after being expelled from the Labour Party was because of their policy to take no more than the average salary and donate the rest to charities and the party itself.

No, Galloway doesn't believe in nationalism; he's on record numerous times outlining his position on the union and the constitution. On learning he'd been expelled from the Labour Party he was asked (live) if he would consider trying to rejoin. He responded, "Yes - what else can I do? I can't join either the SSP or the Greens because they're nationalists and I don't believe in nationalism".

This is how his position on Iraq should be understood. I was obviously not alone in thinking that if you find yourself saluting the "courage" of a homicidal dictator, you've lost the plot somewhat but it was a big mistake to assume that he was doing so for financial gain. The truth was in some senses worse; he was doing this because he thought it the thing to do. But the route he took was born of complete sincerity in my view - and rooted in his long-standing support for the Palestinian cause. In that sense, Galloway made the same mistake as Yasser Arafat at the time of - and after - Gulf War I.

2) Using Galloway's support for Musharraf's probably a mistake - given that this is the position of the present Labour administration, which Johann suggested in an earlier post that we should vote for.

3) Lenin after the Russian Revolution re-introduced the dictatorship; under Stalin it became infinitely more terrible; Trotsky was very far from representing a cuddly alternative to Stalinism: everyone with any knowledge of the Soviet Union is aware of this but when someone calls themselves a "Leninist", or a "Stalinist" or a "Trotskyist" that does not mean they identify, or should be identified with, their crimes; it has to do with what these names are believed to symbolise politically, regardless of what the historical reality might have been.

4) He's really not that important; I reckon the voters in Bethnel Green will agree with me and a majority will not be casting their votes for the RESPECT coalition but even if they do, it doesn't amount to a hill of beans in this political world of ours - so can we move on...please.

Aaronovitch on coke

Writing about it, I should stress, in Sunday's Observer. In the piece, Aaronovitch announces that he has changed his mind about cocaine use after a preview of Maria full of grace, a film about the fate of Maria, a 'mule' who transports cocaine from Columbia to New York in her stomach.

His "change of mind" isn't clearly outlined but from what one can gather, Mr. Aaronovitch has moved from a liberal position to a more conservative one following the breath-taking revelation that people suffer and are exploited as a result of their involvement in the international drugs traffic.

I agreed with him to a certain extent in the sense that far too much of the debate about drugs focuses on the effects of any given narcotic on the consumer, rather than its wider implications for those involved in production and transport.

However, while reading the piece, I was reminded about the tendency amongst conservatives to use the exploitation argument when it concerns "vice" trades such as narcotics or pornography. Of the latter, for example, I've always thought that there was something rather hypocritical when Tories take up the female exploitation argument against pornography when hitherto, they'd shown no interest whatsoever in the issue of women's rights.

In the same way, some anti-drugs campaigners' solicitude with victims of the drug trade seems distinctly limited, with no similar concern shown about the conditions under which their childrens' trainers are made in the People's Republic of China.

The other point that occurs to me is that the drugs trade is a pretty good example of the unfettered market in action; not the sort of observation often made by disciples of Freddie Hayek.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Long Weekend

Thank goodness! And that warm yellow thing was in the sky again today - hope it comes out to play over the weekend; the enthusiasm with which Glaswegians embrace sunshine is a truly impressive sight...

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Blogroll update

I have to add this one 'cos it's funny: it's not political and there doesn't appear to be much on it as yet but clearly this is a kindred spirit as Ms. Flaneur says she would "ideally...prefer to spend the rest of my life loafing". Also, conclusive proof that some Californians do irony.

Ongoing Tory decline

According to the latest ICM poll, it's looking grim for the Tories. In all the key issues - health, education, taxes, the economy in general, law and order - Labour is ahead.

Depressingly for Michael Howard, Labour is also ahead on Europe - an issue which old Dracula would have hoped could be a vote-winner for the Tories. Only on immigration are Labour lagging.

We've just been watching Howard make exactly the same mistake as Hague who focused on asylum seekers/immigration and the Euro.

But the lesson that no-one on the Howard team seems to have taken on board is that while Joe Public tends to agree with the Tories on these issues, they simply don't care enough about them to return a Tory government.

The received wisdom is that the Tories haven't recovered from the loss of their reputation for economic competence after sterling fell out of the ERM. I think this is correct: a majority of voters in Britain have never really trusted them on public services but had been prepared to vote for them on the grounds that they could at least be expected to run the economy without it running aground on a sterling and/or balance of payments crisis. They clearly no longer feel like that.

The Tories - if they're to survive - have a mountain to climb: regain the "economic competence" reputation, which I would have thought impossible until a Labour government can be seen to have made a mess of the economy. The polls - and my own anecdotal evidence - also suggest that not only do people not believe the Tories could do any better on health/education etc. - they also need a fair amount of convincing that the Tories think a public sector per se is even desirable.

Electoral Calculus is currently predicting a majority of 116 seats.

I'll be less precise but say, prediction: Tories on course to get humped. I still think this election's going to be about who comes second - or, in other words, whether the Tories can survive...

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Against faith schools

Everyone these days - the government, the opposition, the churches and miscellaneous other religious groups - seems to believe that faith schools are a Good Thing and there should be more of them. Apart from offering "choice" in education, it's usually claimed that religious schools have a better "ethos", discipline and, by extension, better results.

I have to dissent from the prevailing opinion and argue that, not only should there be no more faith schools opened, but those funded at the tax-payers' expense should be closed down forthwith for the following reasons:

Faith schools are state-sponsored segregation. The Bishop of Motherwell, who recently argued that there was no place in Catholic schools for homosexual teachers, previously opposed the sharing of campuses between Catholic and non-denominational schools. This initiate by the Scottish Executive was not, mark you, suggesting that the Catholic sector in these campuses would no longer be able to close down any conversations about abortion, contraception or homosexuality (as is their want) - or to discriminate against non-Catholic teaching staff or staff that live with their partners or are divorced - but merely that kids from different confessional divisions should share the same facilities. Of this idea, Archbishop Conti - clearly not gifted in understatement - said it was like asking for the "repatriation of the Irish." When the scheme did go ahead, the saved were separated from the damned by a screen partitioning the dining hall! How anyone can defend this is beyond me - and the problems this causes when faith overlaps with ethnicity should be obvious.

Faith schools reinforce the old lie that religion is the source of morality and the idea that faith per se is a virtue. The logical outcome of building a multi-cultural educational system on the basis of one that historically has favoured the Christian faith is to extend the same privileges to all other faiths. While this can be seen as a form of progress, in another sense it's reactionary because the net result is, while no one faith is seen as the sole repository of morals and wisdom, the insidious idea that religious faith of whatever kind is morally preferable to none. This same woolly-headed, contradictory thinking can be seen in Prince Charles' vapid suggestion that the monarch should be the "Protector of faith" rather than the faith.

When I complain that I object to paying taxes towards an educational institution that will exclude my son on the grounds of religious belief, I'm usually told I can send him to a secular school. The problem with that is there's no such thing. No matter where he goes, he will be compelled to do Religious and Moral Education; it's compulsory for at least one period a week up to fourth year. The study of history, on the other hand, is entirely optional after S2. He will also - unless he gets specific permission to do otherwise - have to endure assemblies where this gooey, New Age, relativist, mumbo-jumbo crap about faith being a Good Thing is pushed relentlessly.

Faith schools also don't do what is claimed of them. Better behaviour? I've taught in a few and I would refute this. They are - on the whole - better at getting them into uniform but apart from that they're no different. Sometimes they appear to be - but there's a simple explanation: a Catholic teacher once told me that she thought all this stuff about ethos and discipline was rubbish; the explanation for the appearance of greater quality lay in the fact that, because these schools had a much wider catchment, they were genuinely comprehensive - whereas what are normally termed "comprehensives" were really just neighbourhood schools, lacking the heterogeneity of faith schools.

Neither does it seem to shore up actual religious faith or observance. The C of E and the Roman Catholic church retain and expand their influence in education yet congregations continue to decline. My own experience tends me to believe that the church hierarchy should be worried about the quality of religious education in their own schools because I found that the overwhelming majority of those I asked didn't give a damn what the church taught about contraception, abortion, euthanasia or sexual relationships in general. Contrast and compare with the US and its legalistic separation of church and state: you can't pray in school or have any kind of religious services but religious belief and observance of every kind seems to flourish in the US.

Ofsted's chief inspector got himself into bother by criticizing the quality of education in Muslim schools but unbelievably praising the Bronze Age morality of the Exclusive Brethren who have schools run by loons who don't allow the use of the internet because it's "a device created by Satan to yoke together unbelievers. In www we see the stamp of the devil, and it says: wicked, wicked, wicked." These make the Muslim schools look rational by comparison - but that's the point: in the final analysis, faith schools ultimately set limits on rationality whenever that rationality threatens to challenge some central tenet of the faith. Separate faith schools should be closed down and "non-denominational" schools should become properly secular, with no ministers, priests, svengalis, nuns, mullahs or any other experts in the supernatural allowed with 200 yards of the building.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Bishop's unease with gay teachers

The Bishop of Motherwell, Joseph Devine, reckons there is no place for homosexual teachers in faith schools.

Personally, I think there's no place for faith schools.

Friday, March 18, 2005

What your drink says about you

Lifted from the BBC, the above is a piece of research purporting to reveal people's personalities by their choice of drink.

Hmmm, when taking a refreshment of an evening, I always start with one of these:

According to the research findings, those of us partial to this are, "experimental and constantly creative in thought and behaviour. However, the majority of these ideas are never acted upon when they are superseded by other ideas." Um, like the superseding idea of getting another round in?

We lager-drinkers are also, apparently, "most likely to enjoy jazz, media and unusual art. They are above mere fashion and favour the drama of wearing black."

This has to be bollocks, surely? Had a few on Wednesday with a couple of comrades while watching Celtic vs Cally Thistle. Bar the tiny smattering of women there, just about everyone in the damn pub was drinking lager.

Now, it may be sectarian prejudice on my part - and I know that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, and all that - but I really didn't get the impression that many of the green wearing patrons were likely to be jazz fans or purveyors of unusual art...

Thursday, March 17, 2005

"Western-style Democracy"

I'm not sure this is one that Mark Kaplan would include in his funny and true A Few Notes on Rhetoric, but the above is currently my favourite. Usually preceded with a world-weary sigh, I've lost count of how many times I've heard pundits, politicians and academics use this phrase in relation to the Middle East in general and Iraq, of course, in particular.

I could complain that no journalist seems to have the wherewithal to ask what this means exactly but it isn't really necessary because the inference that one is supposed to draw is plain: "Western-style democracy" in this context becomes a culture-specific product like Coca-Cola or Starbucks that the Americans are crassly exporting, by force if necessary, around the world without regard to differences in culture and tradition.

One wonders what it is about this "style" of democracy that is so objectionable and alien. This business where people get to vote in competitive elections? Or that it allows space for people to protest against the overthrow of a dictatorship that they've never experienced? That in general, despite some obvious failures, governments that have been elected generally have a better human rights record than those that have not been?

Assuming that the aforementioned don't actually object to these features of liberal democracy per se, one can only assume that they mean it isn't appropriate for them; it's really a version of the "Arabs don't do democracy" argument - due to tribal and/or religious traditions or whatever.

My problem with this view is it has been applied in numerous contexts in the past: before Arabs became the focus, the same was said about Asians and Africans; before that, it was used about Catholics; before that, it was said the Germans and the Japanese were unsuited to democratic government; before that, it was said about women; and before that - never forget - it was used about the labouring classes in this country.

That is not to disagree with the idea that the American model isn't necessarily appropriate in all countries at all times but if this is what people mean by "Western-style democracy" they should be less lazy with their terminology and say so. There is no such thing as one "Western" model: some have executive presidencies; some have presidencies and a parliamentary system; some are constitutional monarchies; some are centralized, others federal; some are "consociational" - but what all "Western" systems have in common are competitive elections to representative assemblies, at least some degree of separation of religion from the state and usually some form of entrenched civil rights legislation. If this - rather than the specific American model, with its executive presidency and its legalistic separation of powers - is what critics of democratization think is unsuitable for the Middle East then I think we're entitled to ask why, and ask what other form of democracy they had in mind if they don't like this one?

Spring is coming

I know this because the rain's getting a wee bit warmer. Plus when it stopped for a few minutes this morning, there was a yellow thing in the sky that gave off warmth!

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

No such thing as bad publicity

Robert Lyndsay - who describes himself as an "independent left journalist from California" has included me in his links under "Traitors (Pro-war Left/Pro-war Delinquents)". I wasn't sure if it's entirely accurate but nonetheless, I felt strangely pleased. Anyway, self-assessment's fairly pointless most of the time.

[irony] Pop over and have a look; lots of stuff about Israel/Palestine and Zionism - and, as all of us familiar with the blogsphere know, that's plugging a big hole in the market.[/irony]

Being made surplus

According to this piece in the Scotsman, 20% of parents refuse to send their children to their local school.

Not sure I can blame them - and I think I'm going to start taking the same approach. According to this, my previous school had the dubious distinction of being the school in Glasgow that recorded the highest level of assaults on teachers in 2003/4.

In the modern culture of compulsory euphemism I suppose we should be positive and see this as a form of excellence. My present school, encouragingly, is in second place; this afternoon, I think I'll provoke some of the more aggressive fourth years and see if we can't top the league table.

The net result is that negative publicity, combined with a general shift to the suburbs, has produced a declining population in Glasgow's schools - including my own, which is why I'm being made surplus. Dunno how it works in England but here it means that, while your present job disappears, the Council (aka "GOSPLAN") finds you another post.

Can't say I'm too happy about the options though because they're all feckin' miles away - one of them isn't even in Glasgow - having only been included on some technicality. The other two are close to the city boundary on the opposite end from where I live.

Sometimes I think our commissar for education is out to get me. Paranoid? Possibly - but that doesn't mean...

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Lib Dems shift right?

Over at Dead Men Left, you'll find this efficient demolition job on the Liberal Democrats' pretensions to be a "progressive" alternative to the Tories. As Meaders points out, the Vince Cable/Orange Book axis of neo-liberalism is really the only group within the party that represents a break from the Liberals' shabby record of political opportunism but at the expense of the very "progressive" claim that they have been making.

Remember when the Lib Dems talked about replacing Labour as the party of the centre left? This was - and is - never going to be a possibility with their hostility to organised labour. The direction they seem to be going is more coherent and should the fortunes of the Tory party in England follow its fate in Scotland, altogether more plausible. And if the future is more Scotland-shaped, you can expect the Lib Dems to become a more clearly defined centre-right party. All the polling evidence from this part of the world tends to suggest that the Scottish Liberal voter is more conservative than in England having become one of the main main repositories (along with the SNP) of Scotland's centre-right vote.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Another cheer for the Lords

Sorry for banging on about this but this government's non-understanding of the function of the law in a liberal polity is really getting me down.

The war on liberty received a set-back at the hands of the House of Lords. I don't have a great deal to add to the great post by nosemonkey on the same subject, except to reiterate how ludicrous Blair's position on this issue was:

1) First we had the disgraceful detentions at Belmarsh which the Law Lords ruled to be discriminatory because it only applies to foreign nationals.

2) Government's solution: go for social inclusion by extending the scope of terrorism legislation to British subjects.

3) Despite the fact that before the Law Lord's ruling, the capacity to deprive a British subject's liberty without charge, trial or legal representation did not exist - Blair proceeds to present this shabby piece of legislation as urgently necessary and shamefully accuses his opponents in the Commons and the Lords of "opportunism" and being soft on terrorism.

Finally, neither Blair nor anyone else amongst the authoritarian right of New Labour can complain about the "undemocratic" Lords. This government has had plenty of opportunity to present a proper, democratic blueprint for Lords reform and they didn't do so for the same reason that they shelved PR; they stood to lose power so instead we had a chamber stuffed with members there by the Prime Minister's patronage. Turns out "Tony's cronies" have rather more backbone than anyone thought and it serves that slimy b*stard Blair right.

Next stop, the curious notion that the over-sensitive have an extra layer of human rights - see Nick Cohen's piece, if you haven't already...

Thursday, March 10, 2005

"Re-heated Reaganomics"?

That was the accusation levelled at Alex Salmond's plans to cut corporation tax to 20% and reduce business rates below the English level by the Scottish Labour Party. "Reaganomics" was the term coined to describe old Ronnie's policy of cutting taxation on the assumption that a more business-friendly environment would create growth, which in turn would generate tax revenues that would more than compensate for any lost through the tax-cuts.

Combined with extravagant increases in defence spending, Reaganomics nearly bankrupted the country. So, is it fair to describe the SNP's policy thus? Probably not: the idea that Britain has lower taxes on business than the rest of Europe is something of a myth; it's personal taxation that is lower and, as I understand it, the SNP plans to increase this in the unlikely event of them coming to power. This would put Scotland into a similar position as Ireland, for example, which combines higher personal levels of taxation with lower rates of corporation tax. Spain, under the recently elected PSOE, have a similar policy, I'm led to believe.

The impetus behind this is intra-EU trade; because competition favours those countries with lower levels of corporation tax, the trend across the continent is towards their reduction. This raises the question as to how low will competition push taxes on business and, for those of us who feel companies with large profits could do with contributing their fair share to national exchequers, can anything be done about it?

Presently, most EU member states have signed up to the single currency but there's more resistance to tax harmonisation because, apart from anything else, this would break the "no taxation without representation" rule. Personally, I favour the opposite: I don't favour a single-currency at present because the resultant inability to use interest rates as a safety valve can have a hugely detrimental effect on the domestic economy. This concern tends to be dismissed by pro-Europeans but the recent economic history of Germany (re-unification) and Argentina suggests that it shouldn't be. Moreover, while fiscal policy can be used to obviate the effects of a monetary shock, the stability pact that circumscribes the ability of national governments to do so is being included in the proposed constitution - at the insistence of Germany and France, despite the fact that both countries have breached this in the last couple of years.

An EU-wide common rate of corporation tax, on the other hand, could protect against the erosion of member states' tax bases against intra-EU competition and have the advantage of making transfer payments in time of economic recession automatic. This could be a mechanism to avoid a situation where EU-states compete for inward investment by slashing their rates of corporation tax - a likely outcome, in my view, of increased intra-EU trade within the framework of a single monetary policy.

No Smoking Day

Um, no - I'm not participating. I came across this in the Scotsman; Jack McConnell's new extension to the Executive's plans to ban smoking in enclosed public places involves - would you believe? - the use of mobile anti-smoking clinics outside pubs and bingo halls. What are they going to do exactly? Ambush people who sneak out for a smoke and plaster them with nicotine patches or something?

The problem with our Jack is he's a reformed smoker himself; always the worst. Despite taking the view that this proposed ban is illiberal and stupid, I have to confess I'm looking forward to it in a way - I'm so curious to see what happens. If, for example, they manage to make the Scotia bar a smoke-free zone, I'll be suitably impressed. More likely, people will attempt to get round it in a number of ways; I'm led to believe from my better traveled friends that - outside the US and Dublin - this has been the pattern wherever smoking has been banned.

That's my key objection to this - it's so bloody American, and what I mean by that is these bans sharpen the division between what is permissible in public and what is done in private. In the States, the Constitution enshrines an individual's right to go to hell in his or her own way - but increasingly this is interpreted as meaning, "provided you do this within the confines of your own home."

Personally, I prefer the French attitude to this sort of thing but unfortunately this view is not shared by the born-again health nuts in the Scottish Parliament. I'm quite sure there will still be smoking in some Glasgow pubs after the ban; whether you'd feel safe going into them is not so certain.

Right, I'm off for a smoke now...

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

The Scottish Cultural Cringe

Old Stuart at Independence blog is upset - miffed even. The source of his ire are some comments I made towards the end of a post here. He responds indignantly here - objecting vociferously to any suggestion that Scot Nats might from time to time be given to a little anti-English racism (Stuart - if you ever get round to taking your head out of your rectum, I think you may come across a whiff of this...). He then whips out that perenial favourite of the Nats; anyone who has the temerity to disagree with their half-baked, inward-looking, international-situation-denying political programme is suffering from the Scottish "cultural cringe".

For any non-Scots reading this, the befuddled thinking behind this pile of crap is that anyone who doesn't want Scotland to become a banana republic led by fish-boy - except without the bananas or the warm weather - must be suffering from some kind of inferiority complex. Leaving for now the fact that the SNP can't distinguish between a political, economic or cultural argument, I deny this charge for the reasons I gave here.

Let's resolve one thing for good: I'm Scottish and British: it's not a zero-sum game (opinion pollsters ask you, do you feel more Scottish than British? As if you're supposed to say, I feel 17% more Scottish today, thank you). Neither is it a "matter of opinion" as nationalists like to say; it's a fact. Some of us are cool with that; others try and convince themselves that breaking a union that is older than the United States of America is all that is required in order for Scotland to become a beacon of economic, cultural and political success.

Those of us that are cool with the union tend to resond with that old injunction: get real...

Two cheers for the Lords

The Lords defeated the government's terrorism legislation last night in what was, apparently, the most decisive rejection of a government Bill by the Lords on a whipped vote. I'd said before, the surprisingly spirited performace of the Lords illustrates the point that liberty shouldn't be confused with democracy - although I'd prefer a democratic second chamber. They perhaps would have the democratic legitimacy to be even more rigorous in their opposition to these terrorism plans because while welcome, the concessions still leave this Bill in a mess: house arrest on the say-so of a judge is better than on the say-so of the Home Office and the "balance of probabilities" better than "reasonable suspicion" - but it still stinks...

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Scotland's Economy

According to a CBI survey, the Scottish economy may not be in such bad shape after all. Amongst their findings were that Edinburgh is now the UK's second most prosperous city. More surprising is that Glasgow isn't far behind; measured by GDP per capita, Glasgow is significantly ahead of cities such as Newcastle, Liverpool and Manchester.

This tends to confirm one's own impressions of the old home town. The West End is, apparently, one of the top ten "hot spots" in the country - the average house staying on the market for only two weeks. There has also been in the last few years a palpable increase in car ownership.

Also from the Scotsman, Ian McLean - professor of politics at Oxford - has estimated that independence could lose Scotland up to £8bn per year in revenue.

Don't tell Stuart Dickson at Independence - that sort of thing just gets him upset...

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Couple of new blogs

To me, that is.

Firstly, there's Freedom and Whisky - a libertarian blog I came across during a stroll down Third Avenue. I'm adding it, not because I'm likely to agree with it's pro-Freddie Hayek stance, but because such a position at least makes a refreshing change to the dreary West of Scotland consensus.

This at UK Commentators made me laugh. I read one of AL Kennedy's novels after quite liking one of her short stories - and now regret it; these are hours in my life I will never get back. When I saw she had a column in the Grauniad, I thought: "why?"

Foolishly, I then read it.


Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Scotland's Religiosity

The good news is that in the land of Knox, religion isn't what it was. According to the Census 2001 data, 67% of Scots identify with a particular religion - less than anywhere else in the UK. Moreover, identifying yourself with a religion doesn't mean a damn thing in this part of the world, being more often a signifier of communal attachment rather than orthodox religious commitment. The stats don't have the figures but religious devotion should really be measured by how often people attend a religious service and in this the figure in Scotland is less than 10% of the population.

I think it was John Foster, writing in a social history of Scotland, who said that roughly 10% of Scots were either strongly religious or strongly atheist - and the remaining 90% were suspicious of those who felt strongly about it either way.

However, unrelated to religious devotion, the data also contains some worrying economic indicators - particularly pertaining to Muslim Scots. The graph below shows the unemployment rate by religious groups - clearly showing that Muslims are about twice as likely to be unemployed than average.

Moreover, this one below - detailing those who have never worked is even more disturbing.

Given that the top three here - Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus - are much more likely to visibly belong to an ethnic minority, it's difficult to avoid the conclusion that the experience of ethnic minorities in the labour market is that of being "the first to be fired and the last to be hired".

The statistics also show the tendency of women from minority religions to participate less in the labour market. This also reinforces poverty: apart from single-parent households, those subsisting on only one wage are the most likely to fall into poverty in the UK.

Finally, this one below shows the rate of self-employment.

This would tend to indicate the phenomenon of "pariah capitalism" first identified in relation to Jews in Europe; finding themselves at the margins of society, they were more inclined to set up small enterprises, rather than attempt to struggle along in the mainstream.

This illustrates the stupidity and circular logic of the racist: if ethnic minorities work side by side with the majority population, they're "stealing our jobs"; if they are unable to find work, they're "sponging off the state"; and if they own businesses - and especially if they're successful...well, we know where that leads.

If this is what is happening here, it doesn't reflect very well on Scottish society. Religion, mercifully, is no longer very important to Scots but the same can't be said, it seems, when it comes to ethnicity.

Note: the graphs have pushed the side-bar down to the bottom, if anyone's looking for it

Terrorism Laws

The war on British liberty continues. I'd hoped that when the deadful David Blunkett left the Home Office, old lugs here would be more emollient and prove more willing to compromise. He has, I suppose - but not always to the good.

The legislation under which terrorist suspects were being held at Belmarsh prison without charge, trial or legal representation - having been declared "discriminatory" by an 8-1 ruling by the Law Lords is to be "modernised" in true New Labour fashion: this government's drive to promote "social inclusion" means that the discriminatory nature of the old legislation is to be updated; now British subjects too are to be detained without trial, if this Home Secretary gets his way, on the say-so of the team that brought us the WMD dossier. But its ok - this incarceration will now be done in the comfort of your own home.

There's a couple of constitutional-anoraky points to make. Firstly, having scraped through the Commons last night, the best chance for this legislation being thwarted lies with the undemocratic House of Lords - a reminder that democracy and liberty should never be conflated.

The other is that this disgrace is an example of this government's supine attitude to the dark forces of bureaucracy. The police and intelligence services always press for more draconian legislation. Hitherto, previous governments have at least given the impression that they are acquainted with the now dreadfully passe documents like Magna Carta.

An example of this relationship with the bureaucracy can be drawn from education: according to Ken Livingstone, his old pal John Major said that he couldn't believe that this government had caved into pressure from civil servants to introduce tuition fees; he claimed he always told them to sod-off when they tried to get him to do the same.

The government were reported to be unpeturbed by the rebellion in the Commons, believing that the public largely backed these terrorism measures.

I'm concerned that they're probably right about that.

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