Monday, October 30, 2006


This recent article in Scotland on Sunday reported how, in their assessments 99.6% of Scottish civil servants found themselves to be either effective or exceptional.

Further down, after pointing out that even within the service this was found embarassing was this
The report comes in the wake of another internal survey which found growing concern within the civil service that it was not performing well. Only 27% of civil servants believed that the Executive makes good use of public money.

The survey found that only half believed any checks were made before money was spent. Only 28% of staff said they believed there was a culture of sound financial management.

Previously the 9% Growth Party has said that we could achieve major efficieny improvements merely by modern management, not hiring into Ministries which have not achieved a 2% shrinkage annually & freezing spending. Almost any private industry expects to achieve productivity increases of 2% a year.

This news of a major lack of financial control suggests that there is even more room for improvement than previously thought.

Saturday, October 14, 2006


Last week Scotland on Sunday did an article about independence possibly being inevitable. Written more in terms of relaxing to the inevitable than pleasure:
Such a scenario is currently being painted by former SNP MSP Mike Russell who, along with businessman Dennis MacLeod, has written 'Grasping the Thistle', a 250-page prospectus charting a new way forward for the independence movement. The pair contend that the gradualist approach is the only possible route. "What we may need," they argue, "is devolution stage two, a necessary staging post on the way to the future. Some might call such a staging post a New Union - a constitutional watering station which allows Scots to continue to move forward, works as a means of persuading those who are still reluctant and opens up new opportunities by removing the economic disadvantages of the old Union."

All matters reserved to Westminster would be devolved to Holyrood, apart from foreign affairs and military command, they suggest. By doing so, the Scots - and the English - would have a chance to test the waters before deciding whether to make the break.

I put up a comment
The status quo is not an option if only because the English correctly feel that Scots voters have more power than English ones.

A fully federal system whereby England had its own Parliament, or better yet several regional ones would be best. Federation allows each unit to try different solutions to similar problems & find which works best (this is known as the scientific method). In that case unsuccessful solutions can be as useful a learning experience as successful ones. Despite the complacent Labour view that our economy is somehow doing well, we have been very successful at providing 'orrible warnings.

The SNP also believe in federalism it is just that their federation would be led from Brussels & Scotland would be an even smaller & more powerless part of it.

Which is pretty much my position. I do not exclude independence from England if it is clearly to our advantage or we are forced into it by English Tory intransigence (many southern Tories are licking their lips at the thought of a UK without Scots Labour voters), but believe we have so very much more in common with England & Wales than the EU states that a Federation of Great Britain is the preferable solution. I do not see the point of a Scotland as a "separate" part of the EU.

Yesterday I got an email from Scotland on Sunday saying they were producing a follow up article tomorrow using some email comment & that mine were "among those that stood out". I'll look forward to it.

This is the letter on the letters page rather than part of an article. It is under a photo of a slatire & a headline calling for independence despite the letter not doing that.

Thursday, October 12, 2006


Whether one approves of EU membership or not this statement from an EU official should get wider reporting
He said new evaluation methodology of the administrative costs of EU legislation - including "gold plating" of laws by some member states - put the annual burden for business at up to €600bn ($756bn, £405bn) compared with the original estimate of €320bn. That figure does not include the compliance costs of the laws.

Proportionately this should be about £50 billion for the UK (or £800 per person) plus the money we pay for membership.

For some reason Westminster has always disagreed with estimates of the cost of EU membership but declined to produce an official figure. This is a situation where Holyrood would be able to produce an official estimate of costs for Scotland.

Monday, October 02, 2006


These are 30 aspirations (an electoral codeword for promises that you won't be held to) for Scotland.

They definitely do not take priority over cutting business taxes & more direct methods of growing the econmy. They are more like the icing on the cake of economic success. Nonetheless since some cost nothing, the vast majority are relatively cheap, by the standards of Holyrood, & all but the 30th (which is really the seed for an internationaly funded venture, albeit started here) could together be achieved for the same cost as the LDs proposed £3 billion Glasgow-Edinburgh bullet train they are definitely practical as well as visionary.

Some of these are also variants on policies mentioned elsewhere & indeed #2 is a zero cost pedestrian alternative to part of #21.

Zero or negative cost

1) Instead of paying for the Red Road flats to be demolished give them to their occupants, on condition they sign up to a good factoring agreement. Any unoccupied flats or where the occupants choose to be rehoused rather the ownership to be offered free to neighbours or sold at auction. These flats used to be Europe's highest & are still impressive. It would be interesting to see if private owners & private enterprise can run them morsuccessfullyly than the Council or GHA. Require the samofferer to be made for any other blocks of flats which GHA wish to demolish.

2) Paint a big orange line along the pavement between Glasgow Central & Queen St stations with the distance in metres written so that strangers know the way.

3) Immediately allow First the right to run a hovercraft across the Forth to Edinburgh - skip planning controls,
environmental impact statements, inspections, long lunches discussing it etc etc. 16

Under £100,000 (administrationion costs only)

4) Run a public competition for proposals to showcase technology projects costing under £1 million.

5) Invite tenders for the building of an arcology (a town enclosed as a single building) of 10,000 homes somewhere in the Highlands or Borders with a low population. Such an arcology not to be subject to any planning permission but must carry long term building insurance.

6) Pass a motion in Holyrood stating that we have a national goal that Scots should be at the cutting edge of scientific achievement & Scotland should, proportionately to our size, contribute to space development at least as much as any nation even Singapore.

Under £1 million

7) Add a glass bridge between the 2 towers of Kelvingrove Museum. This was actually proposed but turned down on the grounds that it was not in keeping with the Victorian architecture of the building. I personally think that maintaining Victorian traditions, in architecture or otherwise, is part of our problem. I also
think walking such a semi-invisible bridge would be an experience well worth having.

If, since the revamp of Kelvin Gallery is already complete,this cannot be done there may be other projects which could similarly be made memorable.

8) Put online video cameras on the top 100 sites of scenic or historic interest in Scotland.

9) Organise & put up prize money for an annual Road from The Isles hovercraft race - starting from Portree in Skye & going by sea to Blackwater reservoir, Loch Rannoch, Loch Tummell to end at Pitlochry. I personally think such a race, apart from encouraging individual engineering & Highland tourism has the potential to be
more exciting than Grand prix racing.

£1 million to £5 million

10) Establish an International Space Law Institute with regular conferences. The objective being to work out rules which will enable private enterprise to work in outer space.

11) Build a copy of the Skylon in George Square (The Skylon was a 300 ft needle held in place by suspension wires built for the Festival of Britain & demolished in an act of political malice & vandalism by the incoming Tory government - it is perhaps the only truly "iconic" building which has been demolished - it should be possible to replace it in even more modern materials held up by carbon nanotubes for a
relatively small cost.

12) Replace the TV tower at Livinston with a taller tower up to 3,000ft above sea level with a a lift going up to reinforced glass platform, or platforms from which you would be able to see most of Scotland up to the Highlands. Put a major visitors centre at the base with interactive exhibits & around a map of Scotland in the floor illustrated by photos taken from the platform.

13) Place a lasar in central Edinburgh & another in Glasgow & 1 hour after sunset to 1 hour before dawn have their beams cross about 5 miles up midway between purely for the fun of it. (This will require health & Safety approval).

14) Build a Buckydome cover to McCaig's folly in Oban, make it watertight & add floors, provide a moving staircase to it & turn it into a visitors centre for the history of the lordship of the Isles, with a view of the islands from the dome. For this to be able to achieve the necessary popularity it necessary to have already automated the rail line.

15) Roof over the pedestrian area of Glasgow. Sauchiehall ST, Buchanan St, Gordon St, Argyll st possibly also providing walkways at first floor level. Thus giving the whole area many of the benefits of mall shopping without destroying the traditional appearance.

16) Establish an equivalent to the Nobel prizes in subjects not covered by the Nobels because they didn't exist back then. eg Computer programming, space engineering, nanotechnology, genetic design

17) Provide legal aid to individual inventors to register patents worldwide(repayable if the patent proves sufficiently profitable).

£5 million to £20 million

18) Give a £20 million X-Prize for the first Scots probe soft landing on an asteroid.

19) Build an automated monorail from Glasgow Airport to Paisley Gilnmour St station thus providing speedy access to both Glasgow Central & Prestwick Airport. An offer to quote for this at about £20 million has already been made by Ultra but the Scottish Executive have decided that they would rather have a conventional rail link direct to Central at +£200 million. The reason given being that since their option
would avoid transferring from one system to another it is worth the extra money.

20) Fully automate Glasgow's Underground. Docklands Light Rail is able to work without drivers & running such a system is very easily within the capacity of modern computer systems. Such systems are even being considered for running road traffic which involves many orders of magnitude more decisions. A fully automated system would be able would allow many more carriages to run & 24 hour running because not limited by driver availability. It would thus also have considerably higher carrying capacity & lower running costs.

21) Build a Glasgow monorail. Minimum from Central to Queen St, maximum - from Buchanan St opposite Queen St on up to Sauchiehall St out to the west end, Byres Rd & either Partick station, or along Gt Western Rd to Anniesland or to Maryhill shopping centre.

Up to £100 million

22) Make a 5 hour DVD of Scotland's history. Hire somebody, not part of Scotland's small media, probably from Discovery Channel, to put it together, print up 200 million (at 10p a shot), give it out in Scots newagents & post 1 to every household in Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealnd & the USA. Produce a permanent online
library of Scots history articles & accessible acceesible free & with links provided on the DVD.

23) Automate the Glasgow-Edinburgh train on the lines previously discussed with the Glasgow Underground. While the computerisation should still be fairly cheap, in some ways cheaper because rolling stock which cannot be updated could still be transferred to other lines, an impractical operation on the Underground. However if the trains are to be run on the basis of single carriages roughly once a minute some redesigning of platforms would be required. This would not be as fast as a bullet train but, because carriages would leave every minute rather than every 15 it would save an average of 7 minutes. Unlike the Bullet Train it would still be able to stop at Falkirk & Haymarket from which half of current journeys either start or end(alternately only some carriages need do so allowing through carriages to cut times further). It could also be easily linked to Turnhouse Airport by a connecting line. In practice, a much cheaper 24 hour automated system should carry many more people between Glasgow & Edinburgh than a bullet train.

24) Build an automated overhead monorail from the far side of the Forth Rail Bridge to Prince's St in Edinburgh. Use the fact that the rail bridge was, because of the Tay Bridge disaster, a heavily overengineered structure & should be easily able to bear the load of a monorail above the rail tracks. An overhead monorail into Edinburgh would not be subject to traffic jams as trolleys are & have the same cost savings as other automated rail.

25) Provide an automated walkway from Turnhouse airport to stations on both adjoining lines or, if the Glasgow/Edinburgh link is built build a loop to the main terminal.

£100 million to £1 billion

26) Widen the M8 & connect it as motorway to the Edinburgh bypass.

27) Build a deep ocean thermal differential power generator & use it to build a permanent sea base owned by Scotland. (See

28) Provide bursaries of £10,000 per person & £30,000 per school for the top thousand Higher results in maths & hard sciences. (£40 million a year, £400 in 10 years)

Over £1 billion

29) Automate all of Scotland's train services. This can be done over a period of years. Scotland has a relatively limited rail track & this is something in which we could easily become a world leader. A particular line for upgrading would be the West Highland Line from Glasgow low level to Loch Lomond, Oban & ultimately Fort William. This line has only very few trains per day & thus id relatively simple to automate. If run by an automated system it would be possible to run carriages regularly all 24 hours a day making the Highlands fully accessible from the Central Belt & vice versa. Another advantage of an automated system is that it would make movement of containers in single units practical making them fully competitive with roads.

30) Establish an X-Prize commission giving the full Moon and solar power satelite prizes proposed by (Friday post) but only applicable to fully Scots programmes. Offer to make this an international prize compatible with any other country or federative state (eg individual US states) willing to join the fund & contribute proportionately to their GNP. Initially this can be funded by devoting any increase in the Scots Lottery profits plus £49 million (equivalent of our ESA contribution plus any private donations matched by an equal government contribution.

In fact since awarding X-Prizes, or ony other sort, doesn't cost anything unless somebody wins them & it is improbable that the entire world space effort could be organised from Scotland it is highly unlikely that anybody would immediately win a prize for a Moon landing from Scotland. The real effect of this would be to encourage other nations to also join in in this scheme making the x-Prize organisation & the new space race a truly international enterprise albeit growing from a seed planted by Scots.