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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Jack McConnell – part time MSP

October 5, 2008

Gordon Brown has successfully avoided a forthcoming by-election in Motherwell and Wishaw.

Instead of Jack McConnell jetting off to Malawi to take over from Richard Wildash as the Malawi High Commissioner, he will instead become a part time diplomat working with war-torn nations. He will keep his MSP seat. The Motherwell and Wishaw electorate will have to put up with a part-time MSP.

Perhaps Jack’s experience in Motherwell and Wishaw dealing with his local Labour Party will put him in good stead.

The former First Minister will keep the part time job until 2011.

The Malawi High Commissioner role will be filled by a career diplomat until then.

Jack McConnell was due to leave for the Malawi High Commissioner job. It created rumours that the subsequent by-election would be held on the same day as the Glenrothes by-election, splitting the SNP’s activists between the two campaigns.

A divide and conquer approach may have helped Labour hold the seats.

Perhaps Labour have done their own calculations about their own activists and discovered that they haven’t got the activist base to fight these two by-elections on the same day.

Now both the SNP and Labour can solely concentrate on the Glenrothes by-election.

Whenever Labour gets round to calling it.

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Burying bad news

September 28, 2008

It seems that Jack McConnell has been plunged into a gay rights row in Malawi. The Malawian Gay Rights Movement MAGRIM are desperately awaiting his arrival.

Jack McConnell in his pin-striped kilt

A spokesman said: “We are anxiously waiting for the arrival of Jack McConnell. He supports gay rights and we believe he will use his influence as High Commissioner as well as his close working relationship with President Bingu Mutharika to put in place friendly legislation for homosexuality.”

As I have commented before on this blog, Jack McConnell is due to take over from Richard Wildash when he leaves his post on January.

That means there is pressure on Jack McConnell to quit as a Scottish MSP to allow a suitable handover to take place.

Now it seems that Labour are considering holding a snap by-election in Jack McConnell’s Motherwell and Wishaw constituency on November 6th.

The same day pencilled in for the Glenrothes by-election.

The date of November 6th, being two days after the American Presidential election, is already seen as a good day to bury bad news; as the media will be focussed on the new American President.

Having two by-elections on the one day may also split the SNP campaign activists. Labour activists were vastly outnumbered by SNP activists in the Glasgow East by-election.

Gay rights is a hot topic in Malawi. Homosexuality is banned in the country.

One politician Aden Mbowani MP of the Malawi Congress Party, dismissed any change in the law, saying:

“This man you call McConnell, he will not influence any policy in this country”

I think he must have studied Scottish politics! As First Minister of Scotland even fellow Labour MPs did not know his name.

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Arrivals and departures

August 22, 2008

It seems Jack McConnell, the ex-First Minister of Scotland, has demanded that the Homecoming event planned for next year becomes even more internationalist than it is currently.


McConnell began the Homecoming event and it was taken on by the SNP. It is planned to celebrate the 250th year since Robert Burns birth. (I guess Jeremy Paxman won’t attend!)

Its yet another example of the previous administration breaking the terms of the Scotland Act without sanction – but when the SNP want to talk to Norway about a sub sea cable, in that case Westminster wants to put its oar in.

As I’ve previously stated this hypocrisy only leads to the conclusion that the Scotland Act is not worth the paper its written on.

Jack McConnell has been relatively silent of late. He is due to take over as the British High Commisioner in Malawi when Richard Wildash quits his post in January 2009.

Could this be the start of a few parting shots before he goes?

In which case has he been informed of a potential date for his Motherwell and Wishaw seat’s by-election?

And could Labour be possibly lining up the Glenrothes by-election on the same day, to try and split the SNP’s weight of numbers on the ground?

I think we should be told.

Sub sea cables and double standards

August 17, 2008

It seems the Scotsman has a story of the SNP being ‘slapped down by Westminster’ over attempted talks to create a Scotland to Norway subsea cable.

At the heart of the matter is Westminster wanting to enforce the Scotland Act of 1998 which forbids the Scottish Government to have any international relations and any involvement of the generation and supply of energy.

Why this is an issue for Westminster now – with an SNP Government – is a mystery.

They seemed to be happy with Scotland’s unilateral involvement with aid for Malawi.

They seemed to be happy with Scotland promoting Tartan Day in the U.S.

They seemed to be happy when the 2006 Scottish Executive funded a feasibility study into running subsea cables from the Western Isles and the Orkney and Shetland Isles to the Scottish mainland.

They seemed to be happy when the 2006 Scottish Executive were considering plans to run subseas cables to Ireland and Norway.

Yes. You guessed it. All initiatives started by the last Labour and Liberal Democrat Scottish Executive.

All breaking the terms of the Scotland Act.

Previously not an issue.

But now when all the SNP Government want to do is talk, its strange that Westminster is hiding behind the terms of the Scotland Act in trying to deny them a freedom of speech.

The law should be the same for everyone; no matter which Government – it can’t be overlooked when your pals break it.

Otherwise its a bad law and needs to be revised.

The fact that all parties in the Scottish Parliament – SNP, Greens and Independent for independence; and Liberal Democrat, Labour and the Conservatives in the Calman Commission (with the blessing of the Westminster Government) – want the powers of the Scottish Parliament increased, changing the terms of the Act – agree on revising the law, all imply the latter conclusion: Its a bad law.

The mature approach then from Westminster would be just to let those breaches pass – as it did in the past – before the Act itself can be changed; instead of enforcing a law that has the agreement of no-one.

Enforcing it now seems petty, small-minded and just plays into the hands of the SNP.

And just reeks of double standards!!

Gordon Brown and the long knives

July 28, 2008

Well, it seems like the knives are out for the Prime Minister.

Still I can’t believe that the Labour Party will ‘ask’ him to resign.

The first official use of the term ‘Prime Minister’ was in 1905 in Henry Campbell Bannerman’s time, although Sir Robert Walpole (held office: 1721-1742) is generally regarded by historians as the first Prime Minister.

Campbell Bannerman’s time was interesting as he was the third Prime Minister between an election, in the same way that any unelected successor to Gordon Brown would be.

Lord Salisbury, Robert Cecil, had won his election in 1895, but retired in 1902. His nephew was a politician and he got the top job without any General election taking place. This was Arthur Balfour. This is thought to be the origin of the phrase ‘Bob’s your uncle!’

Balfour retired himself in 1905 and Henry Campbell Bannerman took charge.

There was also three leaders between elections around the time of the Second World War; Baldwin, Chamberlain and Churchill but given those were extraordinary times, it was hardly surprising.

There are plenty of examples before 1905 of frequent changes of Prime Minister particularly in the reign of George IV, but post 1905 any change by Labour would be the first modern day period (outwith war) that there would be 3 Prime Ministers between elections.

Would the public accept this?

The Prime Minister position is not elected like many Presidents are. Nevertheless many people are already skeptical over Gordon’s unelected position. Tensions would only increase if another Prime Minister took over without a mandate.

In yesterday’s blog I alluded to the fact that Labour was prevaricating over the Malawi High Commisioner post to suit the party not the UK.

If Gordon Brown left office, I would not expect a subsequent election either.

Labour would be wiped out.

No. I expect they will cling on as long as they can, hoping that fortunes improve before the forced election date of 2010.

Much the same as Gordon Brown seems to be doing.

So why change leader then?

No matter about all the speculation I still don’t see any change happening. Gordon Brown has wanted this job for so long he won’t give it up easily.

No-one in the Labour Party wants to be the one carrying the long knives. Many see the job right now as a poisoned chalice anyway.

It’ll have to be left to the electorate in 2010 to deliver the fatal blow.

You can’t trust Labour to do anything right!

Cui bono?

July 27, 2008

If the Labour Party are still reeling from the political earthquake that was the SNP Glasgow East by-election victory and shuddering to think about the coming General Election in 2010, perhaps they should take a step back in reflection.

One country that goes to the polls next year is Malawi.

In the last Malawi General Election in 2004, electoral voters rolls figures were inflated. Obviously this gave opportunity for the election to be manipulated, but it was charitably dismissed as just a shambles rather than a devious ploy to get elected.

This time round, the Malawi Government has put more money in to this election to try and prevent any such errors.

But there are worrying trends from neighbouring countries that are seen as stifling democracy. Foremost among these is Zimbabwe with its leader Robert Mugabe, whose party activists have been torturing and killing supporters of the opposing party.

Kenya has seen around 1500 people killed in its recent election.

And Malawi is not short of political tensions. Bakili Muluzi, ex-president was arrested after accusations that he was trying to stage a coup on President Bingu wa Mutharika. They both belonged to the same party (the UDF) but Mutharika left to form his own party (DPP).

So it has come as no surprise that the British High Commisioner to Malawi, Sir Richard Wildash, has added his weight to calls that the 2009 election is seen to be fair.

‘Nothing can so thoroughly undermine democracy as bad elections.”

Such calls can be seen as international pressure on Malawi to run its elections properly. As Malawi is a Commonwealth country, Britain’s voice remains important.

But Sir Richard Wildash is leaving his post in January 2009 at the latest.

Scheduled to take over is the ex-First Minister Jack McConnell.

What should normally happen with a changeover is that there would a short handover period. Jack would normally leave for Malawi now or in the autumn (at the latest) for this to take place.

Will it happen this autumn?

Probably not – despite Malawi’s calls that any gap in the High Commisioner role would be unacceptable.

Despite the Westminster all-party Foreign Office Select Committee demanding that Jack McConnell be sent to Malawi soon.

With such a delicate General election taking place in 2009, it is vital that the new High Commissioner is in place when Sir Richard Wildash leaves.

So why the delay? Why has Jack not left or indicated his timetable?

Its obvious that the Labour Party want to delay Jack’s departure as they feel that they won’t be able to win the Motherwell and Wishaw seat; again putting pressure on Gordon Brown and his Labour Government.

Its a clear example of Labour putting its own party interest over that of the UKs and that of Malawi.

If the SNP won the seat, Holyrood parliamentary arithmetic would mean that they would then only need 1 other party’s support to implement its policies.

Although the ex-First Minister’s seat is looked on as rock solid – so was Glasgow East; in fact it was more so. In view of that the SNP would really fancy their chances at another upset.

Motherwell holds special significance for the SNP as it was the area that gave them their first seat to Westminster in 1945, held by Robert McIntyre who was later to lead the party. They would really be up for the challenge.

It may not be just the prospect of another SNP by-election triumph thats holding back Jack McConnell.

Sir Richard Wildash seems to be of the old school of British diplomats, always ready with a handy Latin quote.

In one speech to the Malawis, the number of Latin quotes were flying thick and fast:-

“As Seneca wrote:

“Non scholae sed vitae discimus” – that is, “We do not learn for school, but for life”.

As Horace wrote:

“Aequam memento rebus in arduis servare mentem”; that is, “Remember when life’s path is steep to keep your mind even”.

As Cicero wrote:

“Cura nihil aliud nisi ut valeas”; that is, “Pay attention to nothing except that you do well”. ”

There was many more quotes from Churchill to Bunyan to the French Renaissance essayist Montaigne.

Obviously something that the Malawis have come to expect from the British High Commissioners. A classical education from a public school no doubt, in true British Foreign Office style.

I may be wrong but I doubt Jack as an ex-maths teacher is versed in his Latin. Maybe that is holding him back from going!

Never mind. I’m sure his Malawi tenure will be more secure than that of most Labour Party MPs come next election:

Hodie adsit, cras absit.