On 16th March 2017, Fife Region announced its intent to raise the domestic portion of the community charge by three per cent and akin to most regions in Scotland which have had no increase in domestic rates since 2007. Once again, it’s impossible to comprehend the link between property values and the needs and services used to greater or lesser extent by different households. Whilst communal services like street lighting and policing provide a universal blessing; water consumption and waste represent a far different proposition in which metering of household waste could be applied. Of course, I’m sure that many would find such systems equally abhorrent to the ‘poll tax’ system but it does prompt the question as to why such people prefer the continued existence of an inherently unfair taxation system unless they’re already aware of how such steps would adversely affect them.
Brexit A Go-Go?
Shortly after midday on Thursday 30th March, the terms inviting use of Article 50 were given to EC leaders and confirming the desire of the British people to withdraw from the European Community. It was handed to Donald Tusk, the EC President, and written by British Prime Minister Theresa May. It began with the following paragraph.
“On 23 June, last year, the people of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. As I have said before, that decision was no rejection of the values we share as fellow Europeans. Nor was it an attempt to do harm to the European Union or any of the remaining member states. On the contrary, the United Kingdom wants the European Union to succeed and prosper. Instead, the referendum was a vote to restore, as we see it, our national self-determination. We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe – and we want to remain committed partners and allies to our friends across the continent.” Was she inebriated when she wrote that paragraph? If we’d been happy with the EC then I doubt the vote to leave would have stood very little chance of success.
In any case, the extraction process is now in motion and it will begin by talks about talks and how they will be scheduled. Certain priorities have already been outlined by the EC and contrasting sharply with UK desires. Somehow, border issues in Gibraltar and Ireland have assumed a greater priority than one might have expected and where one might have expected separate talks with the Irish and Spanish governments. The British document apparently links a trade deal to security but even Donald Tusk suggests this is a misunderstanding. Overall, it’s a poor beginning to a purely political task which may take years to unravel in entirety.
Too Much Ado About Nothing
There are times when one must despair of politicians in general and their inability to stop talking when no discussion is required. Listening to the plans of the Scottish Parliament to discuss their views on Brexit and a renewed desire for a referendum on Scottish Separatism suggests they have time and taxpayer’s money to waste rather than concentrate on the core duties entrusted to them. Just how much money this ‘hot air’ is costing is incalculable! It’s infuriating when one is compelled to agree with Prime Minister Theresa May emphasising a similar view on March 3during a visit to Scotland. Healthcare, education, employment, industry, better road, rail and air transport are matters that represent the fundamental raison d’être concerning devolution rather than a platform primarily aimed towards dissolving the United Kingdom.
It’s long past time when we should all embrace the basic fact that the Brexit referendum involved the combined nations of the United Kingdom and without provision of exception if one or more nations expressed a difference of opinion. Talk of an independent Scotland remaining in the EU is fantasy – pure and simple – so the decision to seek another referendum on independence as announced by Nicola Sturgeon on March 13th makes no sense.
In terms of the UK, our biggest trading partner is Germany. In Scotland, our most important trading partner in the World lies just south of the border. More than sixty-per-cent of our exports are consumed within the UK with about twenty per cent in EU countries. Just ten per cent goes elsewhere in the World. Does Nicola Sturgeon have any proof that would suggest Scotland would be adversely affected by Brexit? If she and her supporters were to produce a long list of exporters to the EC and where the CEO of each company was willing to guess or quantify the extent of losses brought on by Brexit, then I might be encouraged to take notice but I sincerely doubt there are many companies who could make that claim in Scotland. Even Brexit isn’t likely to stop loyal European consumers from drinking the finest whisky and we’re unlikely to stop buying BMW cars!
I make no secret that I voted to maintain the ‘status quo’ in both referendums and in the firm belief that we would all fare better as part of the United Kingdom and Europe. Given the initial hardships and wasted years during several attempts to join the ‘Common Market’ and blocked by Charles de Gaulle, followed by ‘butter mountains’ and ‘wine lakes’, it’s commendable that the ‘Common Market’ core element still exists but has been sullied by the desires of politicians desperate to introduce a homogenous Federal state across the continent whilst reducing the power of individual states. Sometimes, I’ve wondered how long it would be before British motorists would face the prospect of driving on the other side of the road just so that all cars could be manufactured with the same specifications as applied elsewhere. Sometimes, it’s evident to see window wipers on cars which favour the passenger view rather than the driver and where the ‘one part fits all’ philosophy seems to have been used.
I’m glad that Britain has avoided much of the less attractive aspects of European Union. During the debates on Scottish Independence, Nationalist voices sang the praises about joining the Euro and operating the banks akin to several EC member states and that’s just one of arrows we luckily dodged. In current times, there are more Euros in circulation than US dollars! That’s a problem because there is relatively little to back up the value attributed to it. Even Jesus Christ understood the principle in ancient times when he studied a Roman coin imprinted with the head of Julius Caesar and suggested that the people ‘should give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar’ namely that of worthless coins. If such had been understood and enacted, the Roman Empire would probably have collapsed within his short lifetime.
It’s long past time when the massively hyped subject of Scottish Independence talked of wealthy North Sea Oil reserves in a manner likely to induce more wealth in our pockets and in our lifetime. Truth is, the ‘precious black fuel’ is still there with much less extracted in current times due to the depressed value attributed to it. Writing this article in March 2017, the Shell Oil Company said ‘goodbye’ to the North Sea in favour of Brazilian and Egyptian investment and where draining these reserves costs far less. It may take a century or more before such sites are played out and where investment in North Sea oil might become viable again unless better technologies conspire to minimise usage of fossil fuels.
In closing my argument on Scottish Independence, I confess delight that it never happened and where we avoided serious catastrophes by a narrow margin. In retrospect, it’s hard to believe that we even seriously considered the prospect following a lacklustre campaign lacking many facts. If Scottish Independence is a worthy aim of long term value then new, better and more convincing arguments will be needed and involving far more discussion than the very limited palate of views presented on the previous occasion. A proposed referendum during the winter of 2018 is thus crass and stupid because it would take longer to assemble such information. Nicola Sturgeon says that a later date will be too late – too late for what? An earlier response doesn’t guarantee continued membership of the EU nor does it provide an opportunity for Scots to examine and live life under the terms of Brexit. Just what would we be voting for? Perhaps the most valuable referendum might be a decision as to why we need one hundred and twenty-nine MSPs to govern a population less than many cities elsewhere? Frankly, why do we need a devolved Scottish government and its regional tiers at all? We’ve seen the union of police forces to form the second largest police presence in the UK, second only to the Met in London, and the cooperative union of healthcare services stretching across multiple regions including patients from Larbert in Central Region being treated at the Victoria Hospital in Kirkcaldy whilst seriously injured Fifers are rushed to the better facilities of hospitals in Edinburgh. After nearly twenty years of devolved government and where the early gains have faded into history, does it retain sufficient credibility to survive?
Switching more to the issues concerning Brexit, I’m heartened by the comments of some politicians whose rationale is worthy of comment. In a BBC interview, John Redwood MP, sometimes referred to as ‘the Vulcan’ in the press wisely suggested that the trade negotiations with the EC represented the most critical part of the process with most other powers able to be withdrawn or ‘clawed back’ without much need for discussion. If true then much of the uncertainty would be resolved quickly but in her speech to the Scottish Conservative Conference in March, Prime Minister Theresa May suggested that many of these repatriated powers might be retained at the Palace of Westminster rather than automatic distribution to the devolved powers of the UK. One of these might include agriculture and fisheries!
Whilst there are serious concerns within the EC about the latter subject; patrolling coastal waters around the UK would involve a pragmatic response by the UK rather than by Scotland alone. I’m inclined to believe that the PM meant to infer this but made a hash of it.
Angela Merkel of Germany openly stated that she was ‘not interested in punishing Britain’ and that makes sense because it would affect German interests by significant levels but Germany might be in a minority with some countries wishing to extract heavy tolls on Britain. From their viewpoint, it might even seem like national democracy can be labelled as a crime in the EU. There’s no doubt that the British departure will create problems for the EU not least in terms of its cash flow with the UK as a primary contributor.
By example, there are three countries who use sugar cane to extract sugar and they are penalised to support the remainder who use the older and more traditional sugar-beet extraction methods but there is ‘method in their madness’ in that sugar beet pulp is then employed to feed farm animals. Countries still growing the root-crop will be uncertain as to the effect of the subsidies enjoyed thus far. Sugar beet production in Fife ceased circa 1970 when the sugar-beet factory closed in 1970. Since then, Fife Farmers tried growing peas as a replacement but the effort failed when the Fife Cold Storage facility in Glenrothes closed.
With Article 50 allegedly ready to be invoked irretrievably into the pages of British history, my greatest fears concern a non-elected Prime Minister whose credentials to lead such a crusade for Britain are dubious yet unhampered by a spineless and weak opposition. What happens in the next two years of opposition will probably be shouldered by those citizens least able to afford it with low fixed incomes, minimum pay and reliant on state pensions. If true to form of politicians, then we can expect six months of talks about when to meet and hold the crucial discussions. Britain will be asked to pay what they owe; a figure of around fifty billion and which might seem fair unless a longer-term fee is demanded for inclusion in the ‘Common Market’ that we joined for in the first instance. I, for one, would strongly object to that since Britain is still a strong and vibrant economy in which the EC might enjoy if no fee were applied. Perhaps we should request a fee from them? Given the sad leaders we have employed for this role, including an unelected Prime Minister whose credentials fails to include Pro-Brexit indicators, don’t be surprised by the miserable outcome and hope that I’m wrong!
Young Scots earn less than their fathers did.
During February, an interesting report produced by the Resolution Foundation caught my attention with the eye-catching slogan alleging that young British people born circa 1980 were likely to earn £8,000 less than their fathers did at similar times in their lives. On reading this, I was sufficiently intrigued to examine what the minimum wage for a new apprentice is and learned that, in current times, they are guaranteed to earn approximately the same amount of money in one hour than I got for working a five and half day week! Of course, one can’t make similar comparison based on income alone but I can assure everyone that such monies paid today buys far more than it did back then!
I left school a few months before the end of the last term and was even denied a book prize because it was not possible to attend the ceremony due to my new employment. My first wage was £3 14s 6d (three pounds fourteen shillings and sixpence or £3.725 in modern decimalised currency) and job attendance meant cycling a daily round trip of eleven miles per day in all kinds of weather. I couldn’t afford bus fares. Back then, even a bag of locally mined coal for the hearth was an expensive luxury at £6 per hundredweight bag (112 lbs or 50.8 kilograms) whilst most adult wages were less than £20 per week. Double glazing, fitted carpets, central heating, colour television and domestic telephones wired into the home were preserves of the future. There were virtually no social benefits available for school leavers without a job. Six months of continued employment was necessary to have enough ‘National Insurance’ stamps before qualifying.
Home ownership was a ‘pipe dream’ for most people although it was possible to buy an ex-miners cottage for about ten thousand pounds if you had the cash. Most didn’t and applied for a specialist kind of loan called a mortgage if they had a sizeable deposit and could afford the repayments over a period of eight years. It was a time when you had to virtually prove to a lender that you didn’t need a loan in order to secure one. In my youth, it was clear that wages were not rising fast enough to make such transactions feasible. Estate agents and ‘building societies’ remedied this by expanding the load repayment periods: the mortgage period began to rise: ten years, twelve years, fourteen years and then close to twenty years by the time I left school. This was the mechanism that permitted builders and lenders to launch a spiral of increasing prices without challenge until it couldn’t go on and where most people died before they could meet that last payment.
According to the Resolution Foundation, Baby Boomers born in the immediate post-war period were 50% more likely to be paying a mortgage or else represent outright property owners rather than mortgagees. In sharp contrast, the millennium generation had shifted towards escalating rents meaning that, at a typical age of 30 years, millennials born circa 1980 paid out £44,000 more on rent than the baby boomers ever did – but whose fault is that?
In today’s world, the youth have more money in their pocket than I ever did and availability to credit and loans on a massive scale. They’re attracted to new manufactured products like moths to a flame and given incentives to be part of a society living wildly beyond its means and where debt is an accepted part of the lifestyle.
By contrast, I’ve never had a mortgage and bought my home in cash. Most cars I have driven in my life were second hand and occasionally vintage with only two being purchased new and again paid for in cash. The only mobile telephone I have ever bought is the current one selected for its simplicity and large keys so my fading eyesight can effectively use it and works on a ‘pay-as-you go’ account. I did away with ‘direct-debits’ and credit cards years ago, since both permit payment recipients to raise prices in an easy and friendly manner yet adverse to personal wealth. Both are legalised robbery by stealth!
Back in my youth, we worked harder and saved more for the future. Starting with a Post Office account when I was thirteen; and progressively towards share and investment accounts, I freely confess giving up a lot to reach the crucial goals. Despite this, it’s likely that I’ll still be working after my delayed state pension finally arrives. In current times, I look around and observe young people walking around with cell phones ‘glued’ to their ears and often consuming copious amounts of ‘sugar rich’ lemonades or beer. Should we be surprised and sympathetic that the current generation of youth struggles to find employment and spends their income in such a profligate and wasteful fashion? Should we even care that the availability of alleged ‘affordable’ accommodation for young people is difficult to find whilst the banks of ‘Mum and Dad’ survive? Just how is it possible that anyone can walk into a car dealership and emerge with a brand new car without having worked a day in his or her life?
For each successive generation, progressively ‘dumbed down’ by poor education and the Internet, it’s time to accept that the ‘bank of Mum and Dad’ is broke and the ‘free ride and party’ is over! The new reality is that governments don’t have inexhaustible supplies of money: they never did! More than ever before, there’s a serious risk that following generations will earn even less whilst driving the latest model cars and living with one ear virtually attached to a mobile telephone that they can’t really afford to use. It’s time to re-evaluate how the millennials will fare in future without inviting serious debt into their lives. It’s time for them to consider the long-term hardships and investment required to achieve home ownership rather than ‘mortgagee’ status. It’s time to realise how driving an older car is sensible whilst paying off a long-term mortgage and where chucking that expensive telephone into the garbage eases the pressures of debt repayment. It’s time to wake up and realise that when they get older; state pensions and ‘free’ medical care might be welfare state features consigned to history if government revenues continue to decline. Existing pensioners have done their bit in the past and it’s time for the new generation to ‘step up’ to the plate and get busy!
Postman Pratt, DVLA, Log Books and more
In olden times, the pragmatic delivery of a written message by a King or Queen of the realm was undertaken with great difficulty. Even envelopes with a waxen Royal seal could take considerable periods of time before received. It was the origin of a service currently known as the ‘Royal Mail’ and where, by the latter part of the twentieth century and before the innovation the Internet and Email, the ‘Royal Mail’ handled up to eighty-four million letters daily and could be relied upon to push the right letter into the correct address mailbox. Sadly, that is no longer the case and where incorrect delivery can have potentially serious consequences. In my case, I could have been arrested by the police, imprisoned, and charged with a crime that I did not commit. Luckily, the false recipient of a letter addressed to me posted it through my letterbox and thus alerted me to a risk unknown to me until that time.
Suddenly, and without any prior conviction, I was a criminal driving a car without road tax whose owner lived at a different address! Apparently, a roadside camera had recorded me driving to work almost a year later driving without insurance! Obviously, I did an online check at the DVLA website and where I was surprised to see that the fee hadn’t been paid yet doubtful due to medical issues occurring at that time and necessitating a brief period in the local hospital. I freely confess that payment of road tax could have evaded my attention at that time but it occurred in a period whereby the usual reminders of a tax disc attached to windshield was cancelled. In short, it was I who contacted the DVLA asking why I hadn’t received a reminder. The response was swift. I was asked to renew my road tax on that very same night and lose a month in the process – not easy in the days before Xmas. It cost me hundreds of pounds to address to avoid a personal appearance in a courtroom.
The issue of my car ownership was more complex and involved bills of sale and photographs with me standing beside the car but even this was dismissed as evidence by the DVLA. Ultimately, I presented scans of the log book and presented a formidable case in writing to the DVLA. In this correspondence, I fully accepted the words printed on the document stating that ownership of a log book did not automatically correspond to property ownership. In my reply, I asked what the ‘log book’ document actually meant but was given a reply carefully avoiding the issue. The DVLA, is a recently devolved and individual organisation from government, and now must generate income in this fashion to survive.
Library Closures In Fife
Andrew Carnegie, a famous Fifer well known for his wealth and philanthropy was a great believer in how books could further education and learning. In his lifetime, he created more than two thousand libraries in Britain and elsewhere in the World. Today, much of that legacy remains but is under threat and where the adage that ‘reading expands knowledge’ automatically implies that ‘knowledge expands wisdom’. Books expanded the English language to become the principal communication protocol employed use by professional people like international politicians, airline pilots and many more. William Caxton, born 1422, is thought to be the first person to introduce the printing press to England and this began a literary revolution every bit as profound as the Internet in modern times and it is the Internet, that vast repository of words ranging from wise to foolish and untrue where the electronic imprint has often superseded the ink and paper of the past. Like the churches of Christian religion, local libraries have worked hard to preserve membership and allegiance but the ultimate truth is that younger people read and learn more from their iphone or personal computer device.
In 2016, Fife Council began a review of the regional libraries and earmarked sixteen for closure. That process was completed on 31 March when the libraries at Abbeyview and Townhill in Dunfermline and Glenwood in Glenrothes were permanently closed. Although many remain, will there be a new list of closures in 2017?
Being a shade flippant and cynical, does this represent a change for education in general. Will our schools of the future teach young people the key skills of reading, writing and arithmetic before presenting them with a free laptop in place of further classroom education long before they reach the age of majority? Will universities and colleges become redundant? If so, then how will younger people learn the more advanced skills needed to prerform tasks in the workplace?
Without doubt, business transactions form the lifeblood and economic generators of wealth within the nation and a huge number of self-employed people form an important core. In current times, many people are driven into the self-employment net because nobody is willing to hire them on a regular statuary basis and involving the legal obligations of minimum wage are more. The 'zero hours' abominal contract status is a consequence of the 'minimal wage' legislation. 'Flexible hours' contracts offer minimal protection or guarantees. Self employment means what it says, 'You're on your own!" and where the government response to pensions was challenged on the basis that self-employed paid less tax. Chancellor Phil Hammond completely failed to understand these basic facts. Not everyone wants to be self-employed and work sixteen or more hours a day for a pittance on which punitive taxes are applied. iI's not the scale of enterprise needed for a wealthy country! The investment promises made by some car companies is welcome but perhaps based upon the notion that manufacture in Britain will be made by sacrifice of legal protections and lesser wages.
The One in Three
There are more than six billion people living today on this planet. One third of that number will be of Chinese or Indian racial extraction.