Wednesday 30 November 2011


I'm not sure how I feel about strikes.

Of course there are times when no one is listening and people are being sat on, and there's nothing else for it but to stop work until they do, but it really has to be a last resort, because there are always people who suffer and it's not only management and shareholders.

So what of today's strike?

From all I can gather the government is still saying that they will talk, but at the same time they are saying that they won't go any further or give any more, so you have to ask, what is the point of talking?

But are the public sector workers that badly done by compared with the private sector and self employed? After all we are all in this together. Everyone has to take a hit.

I posted a week or so ago about the pensions situation, and Edward Spalton made good points about the plight of the self employed person who has saved for his retirement, and is dependent upon the value of the stock exchange at the time of purchase, for the value of the pension.

I partially quote him here: "I just had a quick look at annuity rates for a man aged 65. With a private pension "pot" of £100,000. In May, this would have bought him an income of £6813 per year, today that is only £5972."

It's actually quite difficult to put together a pot of £100,000. Say you work for 45 years, that's £2,000 + a year, and let's face it, at least at the beginning that's not an easy sum to take off your income, when there's a mortgage and kids, university, weddings, etc.

Again as Mr Spalton points out, there is a chance of losing money with rogue companies (like Equitable Life), who because of mismanagement as far back as the 1950s, are unable to pay up pensions as promised.

And many people employed in the private sector now have that kind of pension too, where you buy your annuity, rather than final salary pension.

Even company pension schemes can go belly up. I heard a few years ago about a man who was ready to take early retirement at 63, with his wife of 60 (at that time eligible for a state pension). They had sold the house and bought property in Spain and about a week before his retirement date his company pension fund went broke, leaving all his plans shattered.

So the public sector pensions, poor as they are, are better than many people have. And these people are helping to subsidise the public sector.

And yet, that is what they signed up for. It's in their employment contract. Stability, nothing grand, just stability. 

As I said in the post I referred to earlier, the government ministers negotiating this settlement with the unions, where people work longer, contribute more and get less, Danny Alexander (whose constituents marched on his office today demanding his resignation) and Francis Maude, have managed to see THEIR pensions untouched.

As Craig Murray points out here what many of the strikers interviewed by tv and radio stations today find so unpalatable is that THEY are paying, these cleaners and the mocked dinner ladies, office workers on 3/4 of the average wage, for the folly of people who have been touched not one tiny bit by any kind of reduction in their terms and conditions.

Bankers' and ministers' terms and conditions carry on as if nothing has happened and let the rest of the population pay for it.

On reflection, I think that today was justified, if only to show the government that it can't ride roughshod over people's terms and conditions and expect them to take it lying down, especially when the people responsible are laughing all the way to the Seychelles  or, in the case of ministers, the British Virgin islands, where they (or at least some of them) keep their fortunes. 

PS: Jeremy Clarkson, who is paid over £1 million pounds a year by the taxpayer funded BBC, said on The One Show, which goes out at 19.00 and so is watched by kids, that strikers should be taken out and shot in front of their families. Why, he wondered should they get guilt edged pensions while the "rest of us" work for a living? 

Sack him.


I was amused to see that the stock markets rallied* when six of the world's central banks, including the Bank of South Britain England, got together and eased the cost of dollar loans between banks by 0.5%, and put in place temporary bilateral liquidity swap arrangements (whatever they are), between central banks.

It seems to me, with precious little in the way of economic know how, that this is just banks lending more non-existent money to other banks and that this  will achieve nothing much except staving off an inevitable financial collapse.

While I was reflecting that I wished I'd paid a bit more attention to the boring economics lectures at college, it occurred to me that this is December, and therefore "bonus time" for the banks.

It probably looks better when they are awarding themselves vast and totally unearned sums of money, if the world financial system doesn't look like it is about to disappear round the U-bend for ever.

So when they tell you, as they undoubtedly will, that they did it for the greater good, it will be, to an extent, true. 

They did it for their greater good.

*FTSE up 198 pts closing at 5335

Tuesday 29 November 2011


The question was:
Having been refused permission to put their rings on the castle, should the London Olympics Committee be allowed to waste £200,000 putting them elsewhere in the capital?

Yes:  0
No:  58 
I couldn't care less: 3

I don't  think that requires much in the way of comment.

Munguin's Republic says NO to Coe

Grateful thanks to all who took part.

"Omnes aequi sunt", John Bercow tells us

The Speaker of the London parliament has released a double whammy to cheer us up through the dark days of Osborne's austerity, and heaven knows, we need it.

His portrait and coat of arms, which in case you missed them, are displayed here for your delectation have been released to us.

Although I can't claim to be Brian Sewell, I dare to offer the opinion that it's not a bad likeness, catching him, as it does, in one of his regular pompous poses. I feel rather sorry for the poor clerk sitting on his left who manages to get only half of himself into the portrait, but that aside, I suppose it's good enough, until you hear the price tag. 

Like most things commissioned by the state it is massively overpriced at £37,000. I mean, who required a year and a half at average wages to paint this. Surely a few weeks would have been sufficient. And how, when we are in such a mess, with a new black hole opening up this very day, can we afford £37,000 for a picture? That would heat 50 pensioners' homes over winter, maybe keeping them alive!

Moving on, the coat of arms, which looks like something you could buy from the pound shop, comes without a price tag, but you can bet it wasn't cheap.

The swords supposedly represent the ancient swords of the kings of East Saxony, adopted by the University of Essex, his Alma Mater. The ladder shows that he has risen from humble beginnings to be the most senior commoner in the land (sigh), although some have suggested that it's because he is rather on the short side! The balls, wait for it, because he likes tennis, and under the scroll the gay and lesbian flag which indicates that...well, who knows?

"All are Equal" had me rolling about on the floor with laughter, coming as it does, from the man who demanded that ordinary mortals  clear the corridors for him and his procession of clerks on their way to the chamber on an ordinary working day.

What utter nonsense it is anyway. All are not and have never been equal. And what is more, 'all' are becoming less and less equal by the day. 

But there, I suppose it is the kind of thing that looks good on the bottom of a coat of arms. I mean we'd have criticised the man if he'd chosen "I'm better than you lot" as his motto.

At least, unlike me, he resisted the temptation to have it in Latin.

Monday 28 November 2011


Under Labour's devolution legislation Scottish ministers had the right to nominate suitable people for gongs under the antiquated UK honours system.

Of course Blair wouldn't let anyone in Edinburgh, even his own lackies, send prospective recipients directly to the Queen of Scots. Instead they had to be forwarded from Edinburgh to the cabinet office in London, to be scrutinised by the brains of the UK government before THEY referred them the Palace.

Oh well, I guess they thought we were too stupid, too wee and too poor to manage that on our own. It seems to be what they think of Scotland. (Maybe because their greatest point of contact with Scotland is their MPs.)

Anyway, that is the procedure that was adhered to until 2007 when the SNP formed their first administration.

The new first minister decided that he wanted to take no part in making decisions about honours. Whether that was because he might be against the honours system himself (no SNP person has ever taken a seat in the House of Lords) or whether it was because he could see what a political minefield honours can be, I have no idea.

He simply ruled that from then on in, no minister would have any part in drawing up of a list of possibles for honours. It would be done by senior civil servants who would, without ministerial oversight, send the list to the UK government in London.

Early this year SNP donor Brian Soutar was nominated for a knighthood in the birthday honours list. Shortly afterwards he donated a pound for every pound raised by the SNP (amounting to £500,000) to the party's election fund and so, I suppose, it was not unreasonable, given all the bent politicians we have read about over the last 2 years, that one and one might make eleven and that criticism be levelled at Mr Salmond.

The first minister reminded parliament that he and his ministers had had no involvement with the honours list, and the senior civil servant involved echoed that statement.

But that was not good enough for Jim Sheridan, an staunchly unionist Labour MP and supporter of  disgraced ex-speaker Michael fill-your-boots Martin. Maybe because in Westminster there is more corruption than you can shake a stick at, and possibly because he was just very angry at the SNP getting half a million pounds, he made an official complaint that Mr Salmond had 'misled' (lied) over the affair.

An official investigation, costing tens of thousands of taxpayer pounds was launched, conducted by Peter Fraser PC, QC, and found that Mr Sheridan's allegations were "wrong" and "ill-founded" (politically motivated?)

Fraser's report ended "There appears to me to have been no breach of the ministerial code by Alex Salmond as first minister and he should be fully exonerated of any breach".

I'm pleased with the result which I had always expected. Salmond is far too wily a politician to be caught out doing something as stupid as selling honours. That's a game for mugs...  

It's just a pity it had to cost the taxpayers had to stump up for it.

Pics: "Sir" Brian; Oor Eck, and Sheridan

Sunday 27 November 2011


According to a study published this month in the prestigious economics journal The Journal of Economic Growth, Scotland and the Basque Country would enjoy substantial economic benefits from independence.  The study also predicted that independence for  both nations is quite likely.  The study was carried out by an international team of researchers from the Carlos III University of Madrid, the Toulouse School of Economics in France, the Southern Methodist University of the USA and the New Moscow School of Economics.
The study, entitled The Stability and Break Up of Nations: A Quantative Analysis, did not specifically examine the pros and cons of Scottish or Basque independence.  According to the researchers, their aim was to create a mathematical tool to determine whether a state would break into its constituent parts or whether neighbouring states might be better off in a union.

In devising the model the international team of economists examined pairs of countries in order to develop a mathematical model for determining how any two countries or group of countries would fare economically with greater independence or greater union between them and how likely such scenarios were.  The study ignored geopolitical factors, and instead concentrated on the economic case for independence or union.

The study also examined which EU member states would be better off from closer financial and political integration at the EU level.  The researchers found that Finland, Spain, and Greece would all enjoy an economic boost as a result of greater EU integration, but that the benefits for Germany and France were less clear cut.

Using the same model, the researchers came to the conclusion that the Basque Country and Scotland would financially benefit by leaving Spain and the UK respectively.  According to the study the amount available for public expenditure in Scotland would increase substantially after independence, the same finding was made for the Basque Country.  The study also predicted that both countries are likely to become independent in the future. 

However the same findings were not repeated for other countries in Europe which seek greater autonomy from the state they are a part of.  The study concluded that Lapland would be better off financially remaining a part of Norway and independence was unlikely.  The study also found that Sardinia would benefit economically from independence from Italy, but that Sardinia was far less likely to gain independence than Scotland or the Basque Country.

The study is based in part upon a previous study, published in 2006, which noted a correlation between poor economic performance and "artificial" states, whose borders do not correspond to those of single historical nation.  The UK and Spain are the two prime examples of such states in Western Europe.

The novel feature in this new mathematical model is that it is based not only on the economic potential of the countries but also their cultural identity, which is more original.  The model includes expected factors such as a country's wealth and other economic indicators, alongside size and cultural differences.

According to lead researcher Professor Ignacio Ortuño Ortín of the Economics Dept of Carlos III University, the most difficult aspect to quantify when making predictions is the 'measurement' of countries from a cultural point of view.  The study uses genetic differences as a proxy measurement of cultural difference.  Professor Ortuño claims that this is the most original part of the study, saying:

"We take population genetics data and then use it to support the fact that such genetic distance between regions can be used as a good tool when approaching cultural distance.

Professor Ortuño clarifies: "This does not suggest that genetics explains culture but that there is a correlation between the two.  This means that populations that have mixed more display greater cultural similarity.  We are not saying that genes explain the way a person thinks."

Using genetic data in an economic model may be controversial.  The study explains:

"Instead of relying on genetic distances as a proxy for cultural distances, an alternative would be to use data from social surveys on individuals' values.  However, the answers to many questions in opinion polls are arguably biased by short term events, such as the political business cycle.  Since we are interested in long-term decisions - secessions or unifications - information gathered from surveys or opinion polls may not be the most appropriate.  Nevertheless, we do explore this type of information, and find a strong correlation between distances based on social surveys and genetic distances."

Cultural differences are often the decisive factor in whether a country becomes independent.  After applying the model to the former Yugoslavia, the research team noted:  "Cultural differences, though small, were essential for the country's disintegration. Economic differences, though large, were not enough to cause the breakup of Yugoslavia."

When applied to the Scottish situation, the model predicts that the diverging political culture between Scotland and the rest of the UK will be the key factor leading to Scottish independence.  The model also predicts that Scottish independence is very likely to occur and that Scotland will benefit economically as a result, but does not offer a timetable.

The study will give a further boost to those who argue that Scotland will benefit financially from independence, and directly contradicts those who argue that independence would damage Scotland economically.



like the Royal Wedding, the Japanese Tsunami and the fact that Mrs McGinty's cat got stuck up a tree, the Eurozone crisis has proved too much for the faltering British economy and something has to be done.

So it's been confirmed that Mr Osborne (left) will announce that the rail fares increase that put a huge strain on the finances of the commuting public (mainly in the South East of England) will not be as great as had been previously announced, at a cost of some £130 million to you and me. And for the rest of us, talks are under way to try to delay, cancel or at least reduce the 3p extra on a litre of petrol. A much more expensive ploy and by no means signed, sealed and delivered yet.

And now we hear that the Westminster government is going to underwrite loans to businesses that the banks feel would be too risky to make. 

How good of the banksters to be prudent about that. They are doubtless worried that if they had to be bailed out again, the bonuses really would be under threat. But why should they take the risk when George will do all the hard work for them, leaving them to sit back and count their money? Well, that's what you get for funding the Tory party, I guess. 

It was recently announced, too, that the Westminster government intends to lend money to first time buyers in order that they should get their feet on to the all important "an Englishman's home is his castle" property ladder.

That sounds decidedly to me like the Westminster mob underwriting sub-prime mortgages. People who can't afford a deposit for the admittedly VASTLY overpriced British home, will be able to borrow the extra, underwritten by you and me. 

Now, call me spoil sport, but didn't we recently prove that there was a flaw in this "owner occupier status for all" ointment? Particularly at a time when "ordinary" people, no, "families" "up and down the country" are losing their jobs, unable to get new ones and therefore unable to pay their mortgages, is this not just a little on the silly side?

Added to this, despite the plain-as-the-nose-on-your-face evidence to show that it was a hare-brained idea in the first place, the English part of the UK government is now going to sell off its council housing, leaving social housing even more stretched. (Although the dangerously stupid sounding English housing minister,  Gregg Schapps (right), insists that they will build a new house for every one sold off [just how, we're not sure].) 

Fortunately the Scottish government has stopped all sales of council houses and is building up the stock once more.

It seems to me that the Westminster executive is doing all the things that it  (with hindsight) criticised Labour for doing; things that contributed massively to the financial breakdown in the first place. 

And still no claw back of the bankers' bonuses.

Friday 25 November 2011

Who is the fattest in Europe?

Percentage of population classed as clinically obese: