Rankings and levers

October 12, 2008

Newspapers have been quoting the survey by the World Economic Forum in which business leaders have been rating the solvency of world banks.

The rankings however were compiled just before the recent £50 billion bail-out by the UK, the nationalisation of the Icelandic banks and the larger US bail-out.

The website has the co-authors interviewed from the 3rd to the 7th of October. The report itself was published on the 8th October.


1. Canada

2. Sweden

3. Luxembourg

4. Australia

5. Denmark

6. Netherlands

7. Belgium

8. New Zealand

9. Ireland

10. Malta

11. Hong Kong

12. Finland

13. Singapore

14. Norway

15. South Africa

16. Switzerland

17. Namibia

18. Chile

19. France

20. Spain

21. Barbados

22. Bahrain

23. Slovak Republic

24. Brazil

25. Estonia

26. Austria

27. Panama

28. Mauritius

29. Kuwait

30. Qatar

31. United Arab Emirates

32. Trinidad and Tobago

33. Senegal

34. Israel

35. Portugal

36. Iceland

37. Cyprus

38. Botswana

39. Germany

40. United States

41. Lithuania

42. Peru

43. El Salvador

44. United Kingdom

45. Greece

46. Benin

47. Costa Rica

48. Malawi

49. Guyana

50. Malaysia

51. India

52. Puerto Rico

53. The Gambia

54. Montenegro

55. Mexico

56. Croatia

57. Czech Republic

58. Jordan

59. Ghana

60. Suriname

61. Brunei Darussalam

62. Latvia

63. Saudi Arabia

64. Kenya

65. Jamaica

66. Honduras

67. Zambia

68. Burkina Faso

69. Slovenia

70. Sri Lanka

71. Pakistan

72. Philippines

73. Republic of Korea

74. Romania

75. Thailand

76. Madagascar

77. Colombia

78. Cote d’Ivoire

79. Italy

80. Bulgaria

81. Hungary

82. Cameroon

83. Georgia

84. Oman

85. Tunisia

86. Paraguay

87. Nigeria

88. Armenia

89. Morocco

90. Dominican Republic

91. Bolivia

92. Malia

93. Japan

94. Tanzania

95. Moldova

96. Bosnia and Herzegovina

97. Poland

98. Nicaragua

99. Venezuela

100. Uruguay

101. Guatemala

102. FYR Macedonia

103. Syria

104. Albania

105. Nepal

106. Mozambique

107. Russian Federation

108. China

109. Uganda

110. Serbia

111. Egypt

112. Ukraine

113. Vietnam

114. Turkey

115. Bangladesh

116. Azerbaijan

117. Taiwan, China

118. Ecuador

119. Mauritania

120. Mongolia

121. Indonesia

122. Zimbabwe

123. Tajikistan

124. Kazakhstan

125. Cambodia

126. Burundi

127. Chad

128. Ethiopia

129. Argentina

130. East Timor

131. Kyrgyz Republic

132. Lesotho

133. Libya

134. Algeria

Yes. That’s right.

The UK lies behind Peru and El Salvador.

Now given this report was a survey of the world’s economists whose advice our banks were no doubt taking; should we believe it?

Are the UK’s banks really behind Peru, El Salvador and Senegal?

Or is it an accurate representation that is slightly out of date, compiled as it was slightly before the bail-outs?

That must depend on whether you believe the bail-outs will work.

If reports are to be believed the Royal Bank of Scotland is next in line to be nationalised tomorrow. If that happens then there will be further pressure on the remaining UK bank’s to be nationalised too. The banking sector could be picked off one by one by the market and the taxpayer forced to pick up the tab.

On that Iain Dale post there have already been comments about the English taxpayer bailing out the Scottish bank.

It must be a pity, to all those who carp, that Scotland is not already independent.

An independent Scotland with a similar oil fund like our neighbour Norway could be similarly insulated from these turbulent times.

It would also have the economic levers to maintain its economy best, not just for the South-East of England as remains the case today. Remember Eddie George, the former Governor of the Bank of England: Unemployment in the north is a price worth paying for affluence in the South!

Although the credit crunch is global, take a look back at those rankings.

Sweden, Luxembourg, Denmark, Belgium, Netherlands. All small countries lying in the top 10.

Even Ireland, who have recently guaranteed all deposits in their banks, are sitting 9th.

The argument that Scotland is too small to be financially unstable is farcical! I don’t hear anyone saying that Denmark is too small and should be run from Berlin. (Not since the days of Adolf Hitler and the Second World War anyway!)

As countries large and small struggle with the credit credit crunch from the U.S. and Russia down to Iceland with its 300 000 population, this population argument of independence must be seen to be invalid. Iceland, with a population slightly smaller than North Lanarkshire, isn’t exactly Miramont Gardens in Pimlico!

Passport to Pimlico

What matters now is that we take the right decisions to get out this mess.

Those decisions may be different for each country. They may even be different for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

That’s why its important key economic levers are devolved away from Westminster.

Otherwise the Eddie George syndrome will hamper ‘the North’ recovering for years.

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Why the UK should have separate Olympic teams

August 26, 2008

Team GB took 311 athletes to the 2008 Olympic Games according to the Team GB website.

Yet the IOC only provides each country a limited number of slots for their athletes.

That meant for instance Hayley Haining couldn’t go to Beijing when Paula Radcliffe declared herself fit.

Now there are always going to be losers in any qualifying system for the limited slot placement in the Olympics.

But separate Olympic teams for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would widen the opportunities for our athletes, and ensure that as many athletes as possible fill each countries slots.

Consider this:

The UK with a population of around 60 million sent 311 athletes.

England’s population of around 50 million is slightly higher than Spain’s 46 million. Spain sent 312 athletes to Beijing. (These and other countries figures obtained from the Yahoo Olympic site.) You’d probably be talking at least the 311 athletes in a English Olympic team. (The Team GB breaks down England by region but subtracting the other countries totals from the 311 Team GB total gives an English total of 268 athletes.)

Scotland’s population is around 5 million. Slightly higher than Croatia’s 4.6 million. Croatia sent 110 athletes to Beijing. Probably the same numbers as a possible Scottish team, although New Zealand with 4.2 million sent 209 athletes. (A quick filter in the Team GB site gives 26 athletes at the 2008 Olympics.)

Wales’ population is around 3 million. Just slightly smaller than Lithuania. They sent 74 athletes. (A quick filter in the Team GB site gives 14 Welsh athletes in the Beijing Olympics.)

Northern Ireland’s population is around 1.8 million. Not far off Slovenia’s 2 million. They sent 62 athletes. (A quick filter in the Team GB site gives 3 athletes, although Northern Irish athletes are also eligible for the Irish Olympic squad.)

Let’s add that up:-

England 311
Scotland 110
Wales 74
Northern Ireland 62

Thats a rough estimate of 557. That’s an increase in athletes for each country from their 2008 totals.

Might even be more if the Home Nations can begin to emulate the New Zealand population density rate. The UK – as four countries – could possibly send about 700 athletes, more than double the present number; a number that would never be possible for the single British Olympic Committee given the UK’s population.

The key here is widening participation in sport for our top athletes.

Athletes that have experience in the Olympics generally do better in the next one. They know what the Olympics is all about, they have seen what it takes to compete at that level, and work that bit harder to achieve their Olympic dreams next time.

Athletes that don’t make the slot places may just give up altogether.

With 4 different Olympic committees, sport all over England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland could flourish.

And of course, there’s no reason for the IOC to object to four different IOC bodies in the UK. There were 12 territories represented at the 2008 Olympics that are not recognised countries.

Bermuda has its own representation. Britain own those islands; Bermuda is not independent or have a seat at the UN. Bermuda sent 6 athletes to the Olympics. And for a population of 66 000 people that’s simply staggering.

Thats almost 1 in 10000 people there being Olympic athletes.

Or England sending 5000 athletes to Beijing.

Elderly neighbours arrested at Olympic protest zone

August 23, 2008

So the Olympics is nearly over.

Didn’t see much of it myself but I did manage to catch Usain Bolt’s remarkable world records.

China’s hosting of the Games has been controversial.

At the start, pro Tibetan protesters unfurled banners at the Birds Nest stadium. As foreigners they were deported.

The Chinese government has allowed for 3 protest zones – away from the Olympic action – for the Chinese to complain during the Olympics. Protesters though have been largely absent as virtually all protests – they have to be applied for – have been refused. And any protestors that speak to foreign media are being arrested.

Two elderly neighbours, Wang Xiuying and Wu Dianyuan, wished to use the protest zone to complain about their forced eviction from their homes in 2001, and tried to get permits four times from the authorities.

Both protesters are nearly eighty. Mrs Wang is nearly blind, registered disabled and does not have electricity in her new home. Both Mrs Wang and Mrs Wu walk with the aid of a stick.

When they turned up at the zones they were arrested.

Chinese pensioners arrested

Now these two elderly women have been sentenced to a year’s “re-education through labour” for their troubles.

Basically a year in a prison camp with hard labour. Although the Chinese government are now saying they will serve their sentence without being incarcerated, probably due to the international attention over the Olympics.

What a way to remember the Olympics!

It just goes to show that the Olympics still are one of the most political events in the world.

Devolution has killed nationalism stone dead

August 8, 2008

So said George Robertson, one time Secretary General of NATO.

Of course he is right.

But not in the way he intended.

Devolution has killed British nationalism stone dead.

It was always going to be the weaker nationalism that would die. And considering Scottish nationalism – and for that matter English and Welsh nationalism – has been around a lot longer than British nationalism, it was always going to be harder to artifically maintain the youngest and weakest.

British nationalism is now in its final swansong. Of course we won’t see many Saltires, English or Welsh flags at the Olympics – as they have been banned – and we’ll only see the Union Flags, but reading into flag waving to surmise that British nationalism is alive and well would be utterly ridiculous.

Nevertheless, I fully expect some commentators to reach that conclusion!!

The English FA fully expect to field a British football team in the 2012 Olympics, even though the Scottish FA, the Welsh FA and the Northern Irish FA have already indicated that they will not let their players be involved.

So the 2012 British team will be the England team.

That illustrates a common attitude in England. Britain = England. Its one of the reasons why British nationalism never really took on in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. Which is ironic for Wales especially as the original Britons of these isles were forced back into Wales and southern and central belt Scotland by the Romans, before the Romans finally took all the lands south of Hadrian’s Wall. Apart from a brief upset by Boudicca, the land that is now England folded like a pack of cards.

If Scotland is not independent by 2012 I doubt many Scots – or Welsh or Northern Irish, for that matter – will be supporting an English team purporting to be from the whole of the UK.

Brian Wilson, former Labour Energy minister, yesterday admitted that devolution was constructed to keep out the SNP:-

“The masterplan was for there to be permanent Labour-LibDem coalition at Holyrood. This cosy strategy reflected the warm personal relationships between Labour and LibDem grandees of the time – Donald Dewar and Gordon Brown, Jim Wallace and Menzies Campbell. A Byzantine electoral system was created which would ensure that the Nationalists would remain in the minority.”

But his comments were strangely not – as a fervent anti-nationalist – related to trying to resussitate the dying Union, but of trying to resussitate the dying Labour Party.

No doubt he would argue that keeping Labour alive is vital to keeping the Union alive, as if Britain would die if there was no Labour Party; somehow both vitally joined together like empathic twins on life support.

Yet there’s no doubt which twin he wants to save with his donor card.

The Labour Party.

And isn’t that one of Labour’s biggest problems? The self interest of the party machine comes before country.

And it isn’t any better at Holyrood for Labour.

They will never stand up for Scotland like the SNP can.

They will always have to look down to Westminster first before making a decision.

Recently there were reports that Jack McConnell as First Minister had to phone up Downing St to ask if the agreed policy decisions of the Labour and Liberal Democrat Executive were OK by Westminster.

The SNP always put Scotland’s interests first. Every time.

Obviously that rankles Brian Wilson:

“Whether devolution was good for Scotland is a matter for debate. But it is indisputedly a disaster for the Labour Party.” and also concedes “that devolution is now irreversible”

Never mind, Brian.

You never know, Labour prospects might just improve after independence!

The union has no chance.

One World One Dream Free Tibet

August 7, 2008

When I was writing yesterday’s blog just a few minutes after midnight and reported the video log of the Tibetan protests – almost as it happened – outside the Bird’s Nest Olympic stadium, I had no idea who was doing the protest.

On a previous blog, I had outlined just how much pressure the Scottish Government was giving China over its human rights record and the Tibetan situation.

So it was with pride that I found out one of the Tibet protesters was a Scot, continuing Scotland’s record of standing up for human rights and Tibet.

Iain Thom, a worker for Friends of the Earth – on a leave of absence – and former National Convenor of Students for Free Tibet in the UK, from Edinburgh; Phil Bartell, Lucy Marion Fairbrother, and Tirian Mink were the activists involved.

Iain climbed up a pole outside the Olympic Stadium placing a ‘One World, One Dream, Free Tibet’ banner at the top. He then phoned America’s ABC News to give details of his protest.

One World One Dream Free Tibet

“We did this action today to highlight the Chinese Government’s use of the Beijing Olympics as a propaganda tool. They are whitewashing their human rights record on Tibet, so our action today shines a spotlight on those atrocities.

“In March, Tibetans took to the streets, risking everything in their calls for justice and human rights, and we stand today, with this action, in solidarity with those calls.”

“I’ll probably get detained by the police and then ejected out of the country but I believe it’s not anywhere near the risk or the fear that Tibetans are living under the occupation of the Chinese government,” he said.

His parents were reportedly proud and understanding.

The Daily Mail profiles Iain and also Lucy, from Cambridge here.

A profile of Phil Bartell can be found on the Colorado Daily.

Tirian Mink has a website here. It has the tagline ‘Very soon this will all seem like a dream, and reality will be something completely different.’

One ESPN reporter trying to photograph the protest ran into trouble with bystanders:

“I then went back to the bottom of the hill and took more pictures. By that point, a fire truck pulled up and moved a cherry picker up the pole to try to bring down the protester. The same civilian came down the hill and started screaming at me again. Some of the onlookers joined in, and I was circled by people who started pushing and shoving me, screaming and pointing to the stadium. I never got hit or punched, but I was definitely physically accosted. I was trying to be smart about it and I wasn’t hitting anyone, but I kept yelling, “Media! Press!”

Then, someone came up from behind me, someone I believe was an American. He was holding a camera and said, “Hey, buddy. This is going to get ugly; you should get out of here.”

The Chinese public seem to be all for the Games, and see it as a promotion of their country. Any protests just distract that.

Yet if China had a good human rights record and Tibet was liberated, none of these protests would be happening.

Then everyone could enjoy the Olympics.

Denial doesn’t help.

Repression is not an Olympic Sport

August 6, 2008

I’m going to follow up my piece yesterday on the Olympics, as there have just been reports of Tibetan activists raising the Tibetan flag in Beijing’s Olympic village.

Of course, authorities were on the scene in minutes and arrested the protestors.

One video logger was on the scene and tried to record the images but was moved away from the area.

But you can still see his commentary here.

Seeing those images really brings it home how intolerant the Chinese officals are of any sort of protest.

Its definitely not the same, but British nationals may be sharing the same fate as the Tibetan protestors by taking their national flags over instead of the Union Flag.

It makes me wonder why the IOC ever chose China as host country to begin with.

The political situation was always going to overshadow the run up to the Beijing Games.

The Miami Herald has an article detailing the political history of the Olympics and the failures of the IOC.

We can only hope of an trouble free games and when the sport starts China’s political unrest doesn’t spoil the spectacle.

The Chinese security clampdown has already begun.

Home nations flags banned at Olympics

August 5, 2008

So it seems that fans won’t be able to fly the saltire at the Olympic Games in China.

This is the relevant ruling on the Chinese Olympic website:

“2. To avoid delays at security and to maintain an orderly flow, please DO NOT bring the following articles to any venue:… flags of non-members of the Olympics or Paralympics; flags or banners larger than 2 m x 1 m; flagpoles; any banners, slogans, fliers, brochures or samples.”

As Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland combine into one team, only the Union flag will be allowed into the games.

Obviously this is a Chinese attempt to stop any Tibetan flags flying at the games, but it impinges on the Scots, English, Welsh and Northern Irish fans rights to support their own separate nationalities.

The Tibetan flag

Obviously the Chinese are sensitive about the Tibetan situation and their human rights record, but should the British Olympic Association be enforcing this rule too, in relation to the Home Nations flags?

It wasn’t so long ago that skier Alain Baxter was banned from wearing his saltire haircut. Will they ban Andy Murray’s trademark saltire wristbands too?

The Scottish Parliament has a good record of protest on China’s human rights and Tibet.

It has a Tibetan rights group that has cross party support, convened by Liberal Democrat Mike Pringle.

Jack McConnell, as First Minister, raised questions over China’s poor human rights record on his 2004 visit.

The Dalai Lama visited Scotland in 2005 as part of a World Parliamentarians Convention on Tibet.

Mike Pringle as convenor of the Tibet group put forward a motion in the Scottish Parliament deploring China’s actions:

That the Parliament deplores the Chinese Government’s violent suppression of recent democratic protests by the people of Tibet, which has been controlled by the Chinese Government since a military assault in 1950; commends calls by the Dalai Lama for an international fact-finding mission to be sent to Tibet to investigate the causes of the protests and the actual situation in Tibet under Chinese rule, and reminds China, as host of the 2008 Olympic Games, that it should look to improve human rights and religious freedom in Tibet.

This had cross party support from the majority of backbenchers in the Scottish Parliament.

And when Fiona Hyslop went to China in April this year – a trip supported by the Dalai Lama – promoting Aberdeen University as Education Secretary she wasted no time in letting China know how Scotland feels about its human rights violations.

“Fiona Hyslop did take the first opportunity she had on the first day of her visit to China to raise the Scottish Government’s concerns about human-rights issues in discussion with China’s vice minister of education.”

The Scottish stance is supported by Amnesty International’s Scottish programme director, John Watson. He believes “engagement can provide the opportunity to push for exchange”.

I believe the Scottish Parliament is taking a much firmer stance on this issue than Westminster.

The saltire ban did make me think of fifth columnist George Foulkes again, who recently got hot under the collar about the new train logos.

In 1990 as a Labour backbencher he is quoted in Hansard:

“Whatever one’s view of Tibetan autonomy claims, and there may be differing views in the House, there can be no excuse for such repression and brutality.”

Possibly pro-Tibet there, I think.

But later as Overseas Development Minister in 1997 he pretty much backed the Government’s fudged position as to not offend China:

“We believe that we can best assist the people of Tibet through small-scale projects that respond directly to the needs of local communities.”

though he eventually gave this response after questioning:

“The Government are concerned about human rights in the whole of China, including Tibet, and we shall continue to raise our concerns directly with the Government of China, both bilaterally and in international forums.”

When George was Overseas Development Minister it seemed a bit more softly, softly to me.

I guess at best Lord Foulkes position on Tibet is unclear. Certainly he was one of the few backbenchers not to support the Tibet motion in the Scottish Parliament.

As a former Overseas Development Minister at Westminster his name was conspicious by its absence.

Maybe George will be delighted that the saltire will be banned at the Olympics?

Here's a Scottish saltire, George!

In which case, does he similarly support the banning of Tibetan flags?

While I was writing this, I stumbled across this blog which puts the Tibet issue from the Chinese viewpoint:

“Promoting independence of Tibet from China is infringing China’s sovereignty. Tibet is part of China, just like Scotland is part of United Kingdom. If China started supporting the Scottish Separatist movement, I am sure UK will be really unhappy too.

Separatist movement are not well tolerated throughout history, just look at Easter Rising (1916) in Ireland, many civilians were killed, 15 separatist leaders were executed, 3000 political prisoners were put behind bars by the British. Unfortunately, the reality is suppression of separatist movements are equally harsh all over the world.”

There are a few things I could say on this, but the crucial one is the UK is a democracy and Scottish people can vote for independence parties if they want too. The SNP are in Government in Scotland, for instance, and the public await the promised Independence Referendum in 2010.

I don’t see the same freedoms applied to China and the Tibetan people.

Flying our flags is a bare minimum of our freedoms.