Mike Vickers' Blog

February 26, 2015

David Hume Institute – Politicians & Professionals series

Filed under: DHI SPIF, economics, Education, Politics, Scotland — derryvickers @ 12:17 pm


A series of five lectures given by the five Party Leaders in Scotland at this time.

The four I went to were in order Ruth Davidson for the Conservatives, Patrick Harvie for the Greens, Jim Murphy for Labour and Nicola Sturgeon for the SNP.  I missed Willie Rennie for the Lib Dems.

How did their policies for Scotland compare.  Well they had a surprisingly lot of common round.

  1. Murphy and Sturgeon were singing from the same song sheet on education and levelling the playing field; even Davidson considered Scotland needs to be more meritocratic; children from the poorer areas of Glasgow need to have the same opportunities as the rest.
  2. Further Education should be equally prised as Higher Education
  3. Scotland needs to get people back to work: Murphy, the unemployed while Sturgeon the Mums – she advocates Child Care to do so
  4. Murphy and Sturgeon were again singing on a Fairer Scotland.  Harvie brought up employers reneging on conditions in the work place
  5. Both Harvie and Murphy attacked zero hours contracts
  6. All except Sturgeon seemed to agree that Scotland is too centralised and power needs to be distributed. Sturgeon however did mention the Community Empowerment Bill before parliament at this time and she did recognised that for education there is a balance between the centre and the councils – is education ring fenced or not
  7. The oil is a dying commodity but we should be harnessing all that expertise in Aberdeen
  8. Of course there were differences: Davidson is for cutting taxes rather than Scotland going Nordic, Murphy reminded us of the Mansion Tax and 50p in the £ for high earners while Sturgeon said that the Smith Commission would help but not enough of tax raising under Scottish control.
  9. Davidson was the only one to talk about defence but even she didn’t tackle Trident nor was she pressed by the audience
  10. Harvie made the point that people now look at life as a ‘hotel’; you take the room, pay for the service and move on; and I would expect all four politicians would agree with this sentiment in their own different ways.
  11. As Harvie said in respect of the Bedroom Tax there was a high degree of unanimity between Labour and SNP  in Scotland and agreement on the way forward could have been reached a lot earlier if the two parties hadn’t automatically taken up their usual antagonist positions.  It may be time for the Scottish Parliament as a whole to take a more active part in moving Scotland forward without the need for usual party warring.

So what about the performers themselves

  1. Patrick Harvie in my view gave the weakest performance possibly because the Greens politics is all things to all green thinking men.
  2.  Jim Murphy was not consistent in his delivery trying to tackle all Scottish problems as he sees them in the 45 mins allotted – he is of course on an uphill battle in trying to win back Labour voters and may well have been tired.
  3. Nicola Sturgeon gave the most polished speech (and was the only one on time!) and stood up to answer questions, but maybe somewhat complacent – her time will come when she has to put her policies into practice – I noted already a careful keeping of her power dry.
  4. To me Ruth Davidson was the easiest to listen to and faced the audience all the time and her position is somewhat easier as as she recognised the Scottish Tories have a long way to go and she will be considered to have succeeded if she makes any headway in Scotland.

February 6, 2015

Whatever happened to Politics of Hope – Patrick Harvie at the David Hume Institute

Filed under: Corporates, DHI SPIF, economics, Politics, Scotland — derryvickers @ 9:49 am

The third Lecture by Scottish Political Leaders

Harvie provided more of barn-stormer than a lecture; he was better and easier in discussion.

The points he concentrated on were:

  1. The people and organisations that were prospering before the Crash have been the ones that have continued to profit since – it’s the rest of us who haven’t.
  2. The Crash has allowed employers to renege on conditions in the work place.   Wages in real terms have deteriorated – workers must pay to seek retribution at industrial tribunals. What is required is bringing back democracy into the work place – Union rights (a la Germany)
  3. Oil is a bubble – it is grossly overvalued – it must stay in the ground rather than its exploration and extraction receiving tax breaks
  4. Energy creation should be distributed to the local authorities and to the communities themselves (I remembered the smell of the Local Gas Works I used to pass every day going to school as a child!)
  5. The Greek election is a beacon of hope in politics rather than of despair. A break from the cry of ’Business as Usual’ so dominant since the Crash
  6. The Referendum was a lost opportunity
  7. People now looking at life as a ‘Hotel’; you take the room, pay for the service and move on. There needs to be a real revival in the community – Eigg as a community
  8. But he confessed he has no answers to his points
  9. Harvie is for proportional representation
  10. Politicians should work together across parties. In this respect Westminster works a lot better than Holyrood. The Bedroom tax legislation would have been resolved in Scotland if the SNP and Labour hadn’t spent so much time in bitter dispute even though both agreed on the way forward
  11. He is against outsourcing government business to consultants who could gain from the advice they gave
  12. The differential between the highest and lowest in any company that was 20/30 is now 200/400 and has to come down to 10/20.

I agree with much of what Patrick Harvie said in his talk and in the following discussion. There is no doubt that there is a disconnect between politicians and the public, those with wealth continue to prosper, and a change of heart back to a more connected community environment is essential.

But I would need a lot of convincing that the Green Way would automatically deliver the Political Hope that Harvie hopes for.

Mike Vickers

January 24, 2015

Nous Sommes Charlie – a Riddoch pod of two weeks past

Filed under: economics, Journalism, Lesley Riddoch, Politics, Scottish Independence, World Class — derryvickers @ 11:18 am

The pod can be found at:


Far too late to get anything on the web site so just a few thoughts.

The West is fighting militant Islam but this is nothing compared to what is being fought out between Shia and Sunni Muslims in Iraq and Syria.

Yes we all take more note of what is going on around us and ignore, other than from a newsworthy point of view, as to what is going on in Africa.

And we in the West are far from squeaky clean – drones in Afghanistan – torture in Iraq.

No mention of the massacre in Norway by Breivik (BTW what has happened to him?) and how the Norwegian government has coped.

I am not a believer in total free speech in religion – the Pope is reported to have said (and of course he is not independent in this matter) that one should be careful of unlimited freedom in religious matters. Politicians are fair game but religion is not – it is far too sensitive and always has been and it ain’t going to change soon.

Sorry I did not listen to anymore of the pod except the comments on Jim Murphy and the interminable battle between Labour and SNP – just ignore the economy it is not newsworthy enough. As to the oil price – it will go but how quickly is anyone’s guess – the growth of economy in the West is far to sluggish – but that raises a separate question – why is the only measure of prosperity in a western capitalist society the rate of growth – and that takes us back to Charlie and Lesley’s point that Charlie is next door and what about the poor in India and Africa – don’t they deserve of a slice of the cake to catch up even if we stagnate a little. Incidentally we were skiing in the French Alps last week at Courchevel and while we were in a modestly priced chalet, the town is full of shops Chanel, Dior etc along with Estate Agents and up market ski shops and the prices were out of this world.

And I got to thinking – we here in the West are said to live in the Capitialist society. Increasingly this is getting further from the truth; we are increasingly living in a totalitarian society, only that the tyrants are now the global corporates rather than the national tyrants.

December 24, 2014

Corporate Power and Our Information

Filed under: Business Development, economics, History in the making — derryvickers @ 9:11 pm


Corporate Power – Leader Guardian Weekly 19/12/14

‘Democracy can battle back

In this early 21st century, we are bedeviled by size. Economies of scale have allowed firms to grow until they straddle the globe like colossi, beneficiaries of the last century’s turbocharged capitalism. But it is the sheer expanse of those companies, how they consequently behave and how that affects the countries and continents in which they trade that cause disquiet. Of the top 175 economic entities in the world in 2011, whole nations included, 111 were giant corporates

Giant firms, reluctant to have their territo­rial ambitions or profit potential curbed, will deploy lobbying and sharp PR to persuade lawmakers to think otherwise. They make menacing virtue of their multinational struc­tures, threatening uncooperative states with taking their business elsewhere. The result is a source of power that has grown beyond democracy’s reach.

In the real-life face-off between the democratic David and the corporate Goliath, David can look puny indeed.

And yet – then as now – Goliath is not invincible. First, governments already possess many powers that they shrink from using. They could smash monopolies and force firms vying for public contracts to pay a living wage. They could, if they wanted, reform political funding and get a regulatory grip on the lobbying that leads to warped laws. Just as governments have imposed freedom of information on themselves, they could – in principle – shine a light behind the corporate veil. They could also, between them, agree that taxes will be calculated on where sales are made, not where profits are reported.

The status quo endures because there is, at present, too little incentive to assault a system that allows companies unquestioned freedom and unfettered prospects for enrichment. And then we come back to the intimidating scale and the accompanying complexity.

These forces for inaction may yet prevail, but let it no longer be said that alternatives do not exist.’



I have picked up this Leader from the Guardian Weekly 19/12/14. It confirms my view that democracy is under threat from the Global Corporates. The Leader suggests that Countries may battle back. But as the Leader also suggests there has to be a will to do so. I attach a table of the top 10 global Corporates in the Fortune 500 and it is clear that half are petroleum companies; this does not auger well for cutting global emissions. Taking Royal Dutch Shell as an example; they spent $14m in 2011 and 2012 on lobbying although this has dropped to $6 m this year.


I cannot comment on Walmart but ASDA is a very major player in the UK supermarket world and there are articles on the web referring to ASDA’s lobbying activities.

Likewise global Corporates are agile with moving their money around to minimize the tax they pay in any country; witness  the call to account by the UK Public Accounts Committee of Amazon, Google and Starbucks; not that any of their tax maneuvering were unlawful in the UK, rather there is still no agreed Global law sufficiently tight to constrain these Corporates from moving their revenue to countries where they pay less tax. Equally Apple affords itself of flexibility in the Eire business laws and funnels all its European revenue through a ‘cottage in Cork in the west of Ireland’


For the Global revenue position of these Data Handling Corporates see the 2nd table below; comparing these with the top 10 Corporates, Apple is the biggest and is ranked 15 in the overall Fortune 500ranking.

However what the article does not tackle is the sheer volume of personal information that such global Corporates hold about all of us. Zuckerberg of Facebook has announced that he will not be satisfied until every citizen in the globe is registered on Facebook (TIME, Dexcember 16 , 2014). Equally concerning is the scope of data on our lives, our habits and our foibles handled by Google, Amazon and Microsoft.   This data now goes under the name of ‘Big Data’ and is apparently being trawled by the US National Security Agency (as disclosed by Edward Snowden) and I would suspect by the UK GCHK. These Global data information handlers say they the data is ‘secure with us’ but what guaranty do we have? On a much more minor scale Tesco know precisely what products I buy and targets me with personal savings on these products. I also noted that when I surfed the web for a new PC, for several days afterwards the sides of my screen were plastered with PC adverts from the companies I had looked at – I have now bought a new PC and the adverts have now abated.

For me the key point here is that these large data repositories are in the hands of global commercial Corporates and what guaranty is there that the information stored about me is not sold to other companies who may have fewer scruples about making commercial use of my data to my detriment. The watch word of course is be very careful as to what I make available about myself and my thoughts on the web.


Global Companies

1 Walmart  United States Retail $476.3 billion
2 Royal Dutch Shell  Netherlands  United Kingdom Petroleum $459.6 billion
3 Sinopec  China Petroleum $457.2 billion
4 China National Petroleum Corporation  China Petroleum $432.0 billion
5 ExxonMobil  United States Petroleum $407.7 billion
6 BP  United Kingdom Petroleum $396.2 billion
7 State Grid Corporation of China  China Power $333.4 billion
8 Volkswagen  Germany Automobiles $261.5 billion
9 Toyota  Japan Automobiles $256.5 billion
10 Glencore   Switzerland Commodities $



Largest Computer Companies – Many handle our data

Company name       Sales (US$ million)

Samsung 212,680
Apple 170,910
Foxconn 132,070
HP (Hewlett-Packard) 112,300
IBM 99,750
Hitachi 87,510
Microsoft 86,830
Amazon 74,450
Sony 72,340
Panasonic 70,830
Google 59,820
Dell 56,940
Toshiba 56,200
LG 54,750

December 19, 2014

Michael Ignatieff – Liberal Democracy and Authoritarian Capitalism

Filed under: economics, Politics, World Class — derryvickers @ 4:30 pm

Liberal Democracy and Authoritarian Capitalism at the Royal Society of Edinburgh

Ignatieff is now a Harvard Professor but has been the leader of the Canadian Liberal party and very briefly the Canadian Prime Minister and his grandparents came out of Russia.

Primarily he talked about the Authoritarian Capitalism in both China and Russia.

His thesis is that both now provide Capital Freedom but not Political Freedom; but both allow a degree of Private Freedom ie the people have, for instance, freedom of movement to other countries – this is new; neither have any longer the brutal mass gulags.

Because there is no political freedom both potentially suffer from corruption; the Chinese in particular recognise this – the current President, Xi Jinping, on coming to power made the eradication of corruption his first priority.

Both retain their ruling position by the stability of their Capital success – the Chinese Government in particular needs to be successful in the global capital markets to keep its burgeoning middle class politically content. In this respect both China and Russia have no desire for the Global Capitalist system to falter. Putin despite threats to do so cannot cut off gas to Europe. A new Cold War is unlikely. BTW Russia is a signatory to the European Court of Human Rights.

Both countries feel they are being encircled and losing their sphere of influence. Both are failing back on their religious history – China to Confucianism and Russia to the Greek Orthodox Church.

So what about the Liberal Democracies – they are still popular destinations for immigrants – no one immigrates to either Russia or China. Open societies are more innovative. We have the Rule of Law – private property is honoured.

To the Questions

China is a meritocracy, its leaders are very intelligent – is fast at doing things – such high speed rail yet are not innovative (neither is Russia). Power is transferred very 10 years with little revolution – transition is the key to legitimacy.

Neither Russia nor China exercise the Rule of Law – it will be interesting to see whether China moves to instigate the Rule of Law during this century.

Africa could be a breeding ground for Chinese Capitalism

Putin has not got over the loss of the Russian empire in 1989 – hence his incursion into the Ukraine.

The fall in the Rubble is not good either for Russia or the West.

July 7, 2014

Referendum – reason, choice and after

Filed under: economics, Lesley Riddoch, Politics, Scottish Independence — derryvickers @ 10:10 am


Three articles in today’s Scotsman – Monday 7 July 2014




All somewhat related.

Lesley Riddoch does not accept that the great and the good – well the academics – are intimidated to come out and say No in case their research grants are cut after a Yes.

She goes on to say Glasgow and Westminster are in cahoots on seeking and getting funding for the extension of the railway from Paisley to Glasgow Airport if No; and the SNP government  responding to say they will find funds anyway. Is the £500 million being well spent? Cross rail Queens Street and Central (I thought there is a bus service and why not walk the ½ mile)  and of course the more deserving local communities

Brian Monteith bangs on about the SNP government commitment to keep Prestwick open just to save a few jobs when no one wants to fly from Prestwick anyway. Loosing £800,000 a month and Ryan Air pulling out anyway – free rail passes to Glasgow Airport for the staff becoming unemployed.  Back to ‘Market Forces’

And the Leader pleading for all (including the great and the good) to make their views, Yes or No, known as the decision Yes or No is ‘too fundamental for issues to go unspoken’.

All this is of course relevant; but as Lesley and Brian point out where is the money to come from whatever the decision Yes or No – West Lothian Council say that they need to bear additional  £31 million cuts over the next three years.

The SNP in their White Paper can at best say ‘It’s the Oil’ and No to Trident 2 – well Trident 2 is futures anyway.  Westminster hasn’t a clue except that ‘Cuts are inevitable’.

What is required is for both sides to be realistic about the money – Utopia is not tomorrow with either choice – Utopia never has existed except in the imagination . St Thomas More lost his head for coming out with it (OK I know I fudge to make the comment).  What we want to ensure following either decision that we are not faced with a Dystopia.  In either case there needs to be a complete re-think of the Scottish economy – and one where there is more input from all concerned not just from the great and the good.

Incidentally Bill Jamieson ex Executive Editor of the Scotsman and an economist believes that when the electorate go to the poles, thoughts of the economy will be out of the window – votes will be cast on the basis of identity and belonging.


And I agree – there has been far too many conflicting short-term economics thrown about over the last 18 plus months;  no one can think about the next 50 years never mind 300.  Get the Referendum over then start to map out Scotland’s future and then set out the economic strategy with all its risk.

March 20, 2014

Ian Marchant ex of SSE on Electricity and Scotland

Filed under: DHI SPIF, economics, Europe, Scotland, Scottish Independence — derryvickers @ 7:46 pm

Ian Marchant ex CEO of Scottish and Southern Electricity spoke to the David Hume Institute on who he sees the future of Energy and particularly Electricity in the UK and the impact on an Independent Scotland.

The points that got to me – not in seminar order

  1. Energy is the foundation of modern civilisation
  2. The Electricity Industry has had 11 Ministers in 11 years – this is not the way to run a major service
  3. Political interference is endemic – Either Regulate or let the market compete – in the UK we are doing neither with the government sitting in the middle – No stability – Marchant indicated that State owned government, before competition introduced, provided stability
  4. Labour’s proposed energy price freeze would undermine the market – tackling the wrong problem.
  5. Decarbonisation is key – whether we concur with climate change or not it’s just good risk management to decarbonise
  6. Cost and carbon – see table below
  7. Scotland is rich in Renewables but they take time to come on power – Off Shore wind needs to come down in price – other technologies could be at hand for Off Shore – Jim Steele of Morrison Construction (also presenting) mentions Sea Towers,  Hydro and biomass.  Tidal and wave, may be.
  8. Yet Scotland needs other sources to keep the lights on  – Gas quick to build – covering the next 10 years.
  9. And yet gas fired generation is not profitable; Peterhead Gas powered power station running at only 2/3rd capacity.
  10. Shale gas fine for the US where the geology is good – the US has more onshore drilling capability than the rest of the world put together – but not obvious in the UK.
  11. We will need to import more and more gas and be subject to Global Market – not helped at present by the Crimea.
  12. Scotland ideal generation portfolio: 20% small, 40% renewables, 40% gas.
  13. The UK has been complacent on power construction – generation is still surviving on CEGB power stations – but this is coming to an end
  14. You can tell Ian Marchant is a Perth Generator man.  Nothing on Supply side!
  15. UK is a Single Electricity Market – it would be good for an Independent Scotland to keep this, but it takes Two to Tango.   Jeremy Peat added  at end of the seminar  like ‘a Common Currency Union’.
  16. Transmission costs are a mess and presently smeared across the whole of the UK – currently amount to £10 -£20  of total consumer cost – costs must mount for an Independent Scotland.
  17. Finding capital is difficult with UK prevaricating on its membership of the  EU
  18. Energy is a good employer – long term jobs.  Jim Steele bemoans lack of engineers (I thought this was one of the priorities of the Wood Report?)
  19. Jim Steele again – there has to be shared risk in major construction: Government, Operator and Contractor.  Morrison dropped out of Off Shore because the operator wouldn’t play ball
  20. Energy needs to be conserved – totally rebuild Scotland’s housing stock – modern building technology could save 50% energy
  21. Marchant’s Energy Policy for an Independent Scotland
    1. Ten years of Regulation and then open the market to competition
    2. Politicians keep out


Generation Average Domestic Cost Carbon emission Marchant’s comments
Average £250 2.5 tonnes  
All Coal £200 4.0 tonnes Provides capacity
Gas fired £250 1.5 tonnes By2020
Onshore wind £380 / £250 zero Golden age is ended – few new sites
Offshore wind £600 zero Must come down
Nuclear £370 Zero 35 years lifetime – storage of waste

August 17, 2013

Scotland’s Population – no need to increase

Filed under: economics, Journalism, Scotland — derryvickers @ 8:22 pm

Three interesting articles in the last few days of the Scotsman

  1. On Thursday Michael Kelly why the future doesn’t belong to Glasgow. Glasgow is no longer the vibrant city that it was in the 19th century.


  1. Today Alf Young has an article Time for push on population front .  He bemoans that Scotland’s population is growing much less than the rest of the UK. Like so many others he equates population growth to economic growth.


  1. In contrast on Friday the Scotsman: Boom time for  Scottish islands. Understandably Shetland is doing better than the other islands, however it is good to see that the Western Isles are also growing significantly.

What do I make all these articles. It is not surprising Glasgow is not keeping up with the rest of the World  indeed it would be surprising if it were. After all it is no longer industrial heart of Britain indeed it is not even industrial heart of Scotland; shipbuilding and building railway engines have long since moved away. Further Glasgow’s need for steel has also gone. Taking Alf Young’s dictum if economic growth decreases then population will decrease. There should be nothing surprising in this. What is gratifying is that the population of the Western Isles is growing this can only be a healthy sign.

All we now need is an electric interconnector between Western Isles and the mainland.  And given good broadband we could foresee an even greater increase in that islands population.  Also in Friday’s Scotsman is a little article about the GP moving to Jura from Yorkshire and loving it.

What’s Scotland should be looking for is a better distribution of its population and if the population does decrease there should be no stigma in this.

August 10, 2013

Population, Land and the irrelevance of Independence to the fate of Scotland

Filed under: economics, Politics, Scottish Independence — derryvickers @ 9:12 am

There are two articles in yesterday’s Scotsman (09/08/12), the first on Scotland’s growing population and the second by Joyce McMillan on the Arts and Independence; taking first Scotland’s growth, the article takes the assumption that growth like economic growth is advantageous.  Yet taking a paragraph out of Joyce McMillan’s article, following independence, whatever the outcome, Scottish society will still face the same intractable issues of economic recession, structural unemployment, environmental stress, shameful inequality and routine abuse of power that plague governments across the planet.

If I now go back to the first article on growth I note from the map provided in the article that the growth has been concentrated in the south east around Edinburgh but that the growth in the Western Isles and in the Highlands has either been small or negative.  This takes me back to a previous blog where I make the point that sorting out the Highland land problem in making land more fully available to a wider population, will not necessarily get the population back into the Highlands or Islands where a growth in population would certainly be advantageous.

As I see it, independence will not solve either the problems that Joyce McMillan brings up, the dubious value of growth whether population or economic, or the repopulation of the Highlands and Islands. Joyce McMillan also makes the point that given that the only options available in the Referendum are Yes or No removes the possibility of a more Devo Max based solution which most of the population seek.

July 28, 2013

Good to get people back into the Highlands

Filed under: Business Development, economics, Politics, Scotland — derryvickers @ 7:39 pm

Alf Young in his recent article on a visit to Kilmartin Glen in the Scotsman decries the situation where the only visitors on a hot summer day were a few Europeans and a solitary Scot.  Kilmartin Glen is one of the richest glens archeologically in Scotland with cist graves dating back to 2000 BC.


He also makes the point that the region is slowly depopulated – particularly the young.  Scotland as a whole is slowly growing but not the west, See


Andy Wightman in contrast decries that fact that the Scottish Highlands are owned by just a few landlords whose ancestors have in the nineteenth century acquired the land as one acquires works of art – and the land now needs to be made available to the Nation in some form.

These two factors are in apparent contradiction.  No point in the Nation taking over the Highlands if there is no one wanting to live there.

It’s like the US and the British overthrowing Saddam Hussein with no idea what to do with Iraq once he’s gone.

I therefore suggest that the priority is first to give reason to the people to want to re-populate the Highlands.

Comrie is a good example of a Community Development which has got to grips with itself


But it is unique.

If we are to take Kilmartin Glen as an example of the Western Highlands then there needs to be modern amenities.  Alf Young points out that Internet is poor and there is no mobile comms – now considered fundamental to young people.

What possible opportunities are there for Kilmartin?  There has to be tourism – 4000 years of archaeology and my own experience there is no lack of facilities for the tourist to explore the archaeology.  But clearly this is not enough.  It can’t be agriculture; the glen is not suitable for modern agriculture.  What about high tech businesses? – small transport costs – lovely setting far from the crowded expensive cities – I remember a guy who used to build fish farm feeders on Skye, another who was technical director for a word processor company in the US.  But these do need the Internet and the Scottish Government has plans, but most of all the Scottish Government needs to go out and sell the opportunities not only to the Scots but to the English and even in London and High Tech Europe.  It needs to bring the venture capitalists on board.

Given the demand for land for development there will be a way to wrest it from the landowners.  As a start the law already gives Communities the first call on the right to buy when landowners seek to sell.

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