Sunday 29 January 2012

Top Bankers - Call their Bluff

The financial rewards given to the top people in the banking and financial sector is once again in the news.  This time it was the nearly £1million bonus which RBS Chief Executive Stephen Hester will pocket for his alleged achievements over the past year.  This of course is in addition to the £1.2million that he earns as his basic salary.  This has not surprisingly generated a great deal of outrage amongst the public and a great deal of hand-wringing on the part of the government and the banking industry in general.
What this recent brouhaha shows is just how out of touch and incompetent our top bankers and our government politicians are.  It is simply incredible that bankers can even think of awarding themselves any kind of bonus when the country is in the midst of the greatest and most severe bout of austerity since goodness knows when.  Benefits are cut or frozen and wages for most workers are cut or frozen.  Yet our top bankers just have to get their hands on million pound plus bonuses.  On top of million pound plus salaries.  And we are told that “we are all in this together”.  To make matters worse some of out champions of industry on multi-million pound salaries presume to lecture the rest of us about the need to cut back on our wages and salaries!  For how much longer can they get away with this smash and grab?
In the case of the RBS, the public anger is all the greater as this bank is now effectively owned by us, the people.  Public money has been pumped into just about all UK banks and in the case of RBS it seems we, the people, own about 80% or more of the bank.  And yet the bank’s board and top management carry on as if nothing had happened.  Our ownership of RBS is via the government, which as the major, almost sole shareholder, has the right to determine how the bank should be run.  Yet it seems our nasty Coalition has done nothing, absolutely nothing to ensure that RBS is run in a way that benefits the country as a whole.  This of course would include ensuring that the pay structure and actual salaries paid, reflected the banks’s new status as a company owned by the people.
The government could quite easily benchmark the salaries at RBS to the Bank of England, our state owned central bank.  There Mervyn King, the Governor of the Bank earns £305,000 per year.  Now why on earth does the government tolerate paying Stephen Hester, who is effectively a civil servant now, almost four times that amount?  Four times what the Governor of the Bank of England earns.  Unbelievable.  Or it should be.  Now the conventional counter argument is that banking at the RBS level is a global business and you have to pay the market rate in order to attract and keep “the best”.  This argument is just so much nonsense.  In the first place, paying our astronomical salaries and bonuses did not prevent banks from almost ruining their companies and just about bankrupting the whole country.  Without public there would be no RBS and no million pound salaries, never mind bonuses.  If the current and previous lot of top managers is an example of “the best”, then we are in deep, deep trouble.  Perhaps a salary in line with the Bank of England might attract a more cautious and trustworthy management.  It is after all other people’s money - ie yours and mine - that the banks are supposed to manage.  A good dose of caution is most welcome here.
The notion that there is a global market in chief executives is also sheer nonsense.  Just look at where they come from.  They are predominantly white, male and European.  As the government effectively owns two major banks, RBS and Lloyds, it is in the wonderful position of testing the market.  Pay Bank of England type salaries to the top management in these banks and see what happens.  How many of the current managers would actually leave?  And where would they go?  Where could they go?  There cannot be that many vacancies in equivalent positions in the rest of the world.  And as many will have families, with children at school, would they want to tear everyone away to a new country.  Just to earn more than Mervyn King?  I have already posted more about this idea here.
An alternative would be to use the tax system to ensure that the public got the lion’s share of any bonuses or very high salaries.  Introduce a tax rate of 90% for all bonuses above, let’s say £20,000.  Banks can then pay out whatever bonuses they like, but we, or at least the government would get most of the money.  The same could apply to salaries.  Again to take the salary of the Governor of the Bank of England as the benchmark, any salary above, let us say £500,000, would be subject to and additional tax rate.  This tax would rise by, say 5% or 10% for every additional £100,000.  After all, if we are all in this together, then shouldn’t the very, very rich have to face some kind of austerity?
By refusing to do something about this continuing outrage of excessive pay and bonuses in the midst of public austerity, the government risks revealing itself as a bunch of incompetents.  If they can do nothing about this, then public faith in the political process is in danger of declining even more.  More is at stake here than just a million pounds or two.  We need a government that can actually exercise power over the very, very rich.  There is only so much resentment that the public can bear, before something gives.  Marina Hyde in the Guardian has an interesting article on this.

Thursday 26 January 2012

The Positive Case for the Union - Is there One?

Yesterday the Scottish government published its consultation proposals on the referendum on Independence for Scotland.  Cue for lots of media coverage both here in Scotland and in the rest of the UK.  What I find most fascinating about the responses from the Unionists is that they invariably fall back on the claim that independence would be damaging to Scotland and to Scots.  At the same time they are desperate to make a positive case for the Union.

Is it in fact possible to make a positive case for Scotland to remain in the UK?  Looking over some of the recent comments by Unionists, their case rests on three fundamentals:  the economy, defence and British nationalism. Given that with devolution, the Scottish Parliament is now responsible for just about all domestic matters - education, health, policing, housing, justice, transport etc - this focus on the economy and defence makes sense from a Unionist perspective.

However, despite claims to the contrary, their pitch is relentlessly negative.  Their key message is that Scotland is too small, too poor, too weak and goodness knows what else, to survive as an independent country.  Without England we poor Scots would be alone and defenceless in the world and even poorer.  The Scottish Daily Mail, one of the bastions of the Union, provided a nice illustration of this in their edition from 25th January.  Entitled 1,000 days to save the Union, this front page editorial was full of dire claims of how disastrous independence would be for Scotland.  According to this bulwark of the Union an independent Scotland would "confront a deficit of at least £9billion, enforced membership of the euro and a potentially unlimited liability in the ownership of toxic banks."

Now of course, as par for this kind of diatribe, no evidence was provided to support these claims.  However what was  really fascinating about this editorial was that despite the paper's clear view that Scotland is a basket case, which could not survive without English largesse, despite all this, the Daily Mail believes that Scottish Independence "will ultimately be a disaster for the whole of the UK."  Pretty hard to square that circle I would have thought.  Not that they even begin to try.  If Scotland is so poor why on earth is the Daily Mail and other Unionists so keen to prevent our independence.  So keen to keep Scotland in the UK that they are prepared to lie and spout out unsupported propaganda.

I suspect that part of the reason for the focus on negativity is that at bottom all Unionists are British nationalists.  They are too emotionally tied to Britain and in particular notions of Great Britain that they cannot conceive of Britain without Scotland.  At heart they know that Scotland is a net contributor to the UK, which is why, like the Daily Mail, they are aware that Scottish Independence could prove a disaster for the rest of the UK.  Or more precisely the London dominated elites that currently rule the UK.  But they cannot make too much of the UK's need for Scotland, for that would confirm that Scotland could not simply survive as an independent country, but would in fact be a very rich and successful independent country.  Far easier to pretend that Scotland is a poor wee country and to fall back on the so-called glories of the past.

For a more detailed,  yet light-hearted look at the failed attempts by Unionists to specify just what benefits Scotland gets from the Union, have a look here.

Monday 23 January 2012

The UK needs Scotland - but Scotland doesn't need the UK

As the debate about independence for Scotland heats up a bit, I am amazed at just how insistent our London based leaders are in keeping Scotland in the Union.  Such unanimity is very rare in politics.  Just think of the EU and the range of views among our political, business and media elites over what relationship the UK should have with the EU.  But when it come to Scotland, everyone in positions of power in London all share exactly the same view - Scotland must remain within the UK.
One reason given for this is that without the largesse that comes from London , we Scots would be quickly reduced to penury.  This view, while quite pervasive is of course nonsense.  I am not even sure that its proponents believe it.  But they have to say something and beyond vague generalities about being stronger together and sharing the same values and other platitudes, they fail to make any positive case for the Union.  This I think is both deliberate and revealing.  For it is my firm conviction that the UK in its current form, needs Scotland far more than Scotland needs the UK.  In particular the position and world view of our London based elites would change dramatically and for the worse (from their point of view) if the UK were to be reduced to England, Wales and Northern Ireland.  I can think of at least five reasons which explain why our elites badly need Scotland to stay in the Union.

Economic - This may come as a bit of a surprise, but despite the Unionist claims to the contrary, Scotland is a net contributor to the UK economy in more years than not.  Scotland has many successful industries, for example tourism and agricultural products.  One of which, whisky is an iconic brand throughout the world.  And of course there is North Sea Oil.  While it may have passed its peak in terms of production, there is still barrels of oil out there to be recovered and discovered.  The UK continues to depend on the taxes from North Sea oil and gas to balance its books.  Without these revenues the UK government would be in an even bigger mess than it currently is.  The revenues from Scotland’s share of these reserves are just too important for our London based elite to give up without a struggle.

Military - This was the reason the UK came into being in the first place.  England needed to secure its northern border.  While this is no longer a factor - no-one really thinks that Russia or another continental power is going to try and invade the UK.  However Scotland is still vital for the UK and its military ambitions.  It is a useful place for airbases, but most of all, it is the home for the UK’s nuclear submarines.  Where else in England , Wales or Northern Ireland could they be based?  Not a choice the military brass and politicians would want to make.

Size - Despite what many people say, size does matter.  Especially for countries that want to be seen as great powers.  Now the current UK is not that large a landmass as major countries go.  The UK is slightly larger than Romania and a bit smaller than Italy.  But without Scotland it becomes much smaller.  A UK of England, Wales and Northern Ireland would be smaller than Uruguay and just slightly larger than Tunisia.  If it was just England on its own, well it would be very slightly smaller than Greece and very slightly larger than Nicaragua.  Quite a downgrade in size for a great power.  (Not to be contemplated.)

Self-Image - This is clearly related to the above in that for most of our elite and for many English people in general, Great Britain and England are pretty much the same thing.  I image that most English people would find it incredibly difficult to draw a map of the UK without Scotland.  Probably even more difficult for them to draw a map of England alone.  It is, I suspect, way beyond their ken to conceive of the UK without Scotland’s land mass to the north.   It is even worse for our London based elite, whose image of themselves is very much related to the notion of Great Britain and all that goes or rather, went with that name.  The largest Empire in the world, once upon a time.  Yet without Scotland there is no Great Britain, or rather, it reverts to a mere geographical term, without any political substance.  There would also be the loss of the Union flag.  Union Jack no more.  Whatever remains of the UK would need to devise a new flag.  And what would this new country be called?  To be Prime Minister of the UK of England, Wales and Northern Ireland does not have anything like the same ring to it as Prime Minister of the UK of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.  (We do not like this at all.)

Status and Standing in the World - Here we come to the crux of the matter.  While the economic and military aspects of Scottish independence can be negotiated and dealt with, however reluctantly, the other consequences for the rest of the UK are enormous.  Or at least for their London based elites.  Just what standing in the wider world would or could this truncated UK command.  For how much longer could this truncated and much diminished UK retain its permanent seat in the Security Council of the UN?  Many in the UK are proud to talk of the UK “punching above its weight” in international affairs.  But much of this is a residual of our Imperial past, when GB did rule the waves.  I suspect that the loss of Scotland would be seen by our London based elites and by the rest of the world as a massive blow to their power and influence.
So the next time some Unionist politician or cheerleader waxes lyrical about the UK and how much Scotland would lose from leaving, just ask yourself - how much more would the UK lose from an independent Scotland?

Thursday 19 January 2012

Austerity Isn’t Working

The current fad for government imposed austerity has taken quite a battering in the past few weeks.  Whether this will lead to any significant changes in policy is a moot point.  The dash for austerity was based on the rather dubious notion of “expansionary fiscal contraction.” Alas recent economic experience around the globe has shown this to be nonsense.  Fiscal contraction has turned out to mean what it says on the tin - contraction.  Fiscal contraction has inevitably led to economic contraction with all that has meant for working people.  Paul Krugman in a recent post quotes from an article on the Eurozone by Kevin O’Rourke:  “ Since 2010, a Europe-wide experiment has conclusively falsified the idea that fiscal contractions are expansionary. August 2011 saw the largest monthly decrease in eurozone industrial production since September 2009, German exports fell sharply in October, and is predicting declines in eurozone GDP for late 2011 and early 2012.”
The most recent unemployment figures for the UK confirm that austerity is not working.  Unfortunately lots more people are now not working either.  The detail behind the headline figures shows just how bad things are becoming.  The overall total of unemployed is masked by the rise in those in self-employment, in unpaid family work and on government supported schemes.  This comes to a staggering 127,000 people.  The vast majority of them are really unemployed.  The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development reckons that the rise in self-employment is not evidence of an increase in entrepreneurship, but rather due to a growing number of “odd Jobbers”, people willing to try their hand at anything to avoid being unemployed.  Now this may be a good thing, but it is a sign of a weak economy not a strong one.  The unemployment figures also show that the number of employees working full-time fell by 140,000.  There was also a rise of 44,000 in people who were in part-time work because they could not find full-time work.  Not encouraging at all.  And there are more cuts in public services to come.
Another sign of the times was the expected downgrading of the credit worthiness of various Eurozone countries, including France, which has lost its coveted AAA rating.  However the key and most interesting aspect to this announcement by S&P was the reasons they gave for this downgrading.  They stated:  “In our view, however, the financial problems facing the eurozone are as much a consequence of rising external imbalances and divergences in competitiveness between the EMU’s core and the so-called “periphery”. As such, we believe that a reform process based on a pillar of fiscal austerity alone risks becoming self-defeating, as domestic demand falls in line with consumers’ rising concerns about job security and disposable incomes, eroding national tax revenues”.
Further evidence that austerity doesn’t work and is in fact self-defeating comes from an unlikely source - the IMF.  Their chief economist, Olivier Blanchard has recently commented on why 2011 has been such a bad year economically and looks at lessons for the future.  One in particular stands out and is worth quoting here:  financial investors are schizophrenic about fiscal consolidation and growth.  They react positively to news of fiscal consolidation, but then react negatively later, when consolidation leads to lower growth—which it often does. Some preliminary estimates that the IMF is working on suggest that it does not take large multipliers for the joint effects of fiscal consolidation and the implied lower growth to lead in the end to an increase, not a decrease, in risk spreads on government bonds. To the extent that governments feel they have to respond to markets, they may be induced to consolidate too fast, even from the narrow point of view of debt sustainability.  I should be clear here. Substantial fiscal consolidation is needed, and debt levels must decrease. But it should be, in the words of Angela Merkel, a marathon rather than a sprint. It will take more than two decades to return to prudent levels of debt. There is a proverb that actually applies here too: “slow and steady wins the race.”  For more about this article see here.
The final coup de grâce on the failure of austerity measures comes from the latest round-up of independent economic forecasts published by the Treasury.  Their conclusions - in 2012 the UK faces lower growth, higher unemployment and a higher deficit.  You can read more about this here.
As I said at the beginning there is little prospect that our leaders will change policy direction, even in the face of such damning evidence.  I was tempted to write that we suffer from the one-eyed leading the blind, but that would be grossly unfair to one-eyed people.  Almost anyone with an open mind can see what has happened over the past three year.  No, unfortunately we suffer from being led by a group of nasty ideologues.  Wherever you look - London, Paris, Berlin or Washington - it is the same.  Governments which are predominately led by very rich and very wealthy people, preaching austerity to the rest of us.  I wonder just how much austerity the likes of Cameron, Osborne and Clegg for example have had to endure over the last two years? 

Wednesday 18 January 2012

The Bargellist - My Other Blog

I now have another blog, which I've called thebargellist.  You can find it here.   This new blog will contain my musings on needlework, especially Bargello needlepoint, hence the title of the blog, plus comments on books, films, the Arts, the progress of Barça and anything else that takes my fancy.  There is also a link to the blog in My Blog List on the right hand sidebar.  My latest post there is A Year in Threads.

Monday 16 January 2012

Scottish Independence - Start Negotiating Now!

The initial skirmishes in the campaign for Independence for Scotland gives us an inkling of what is in store for us over the next 1000 days.  And it is not a pretty or edifying prospect.  Claims and counter claims will be made with great solemnity.  However without the time and resources to do a bit of research it will be very difficult for most voters to make much sense of the various claims.  We have already had a flavour of the more outrageous and unfounded assertions that the Unionist side will make.  For example George Osborne lets it be known that he, as UK Chancellor may not allow an independent Scotland to continue to use sterling as its currency.  An assertion that even Treasury spokespersons had to admit was nonsense.  However most newspaper had by then carried Osborne’s lie as a headline.  The subsequent denials were given little or not prominence.
This alas will be the norm.  Already we have had politicians and commentators wading in with dire predictions of how much of the UK national debt an independent Scotland will have to take - usually some astronomical figure.  Others claim that Scotland will have to shoulder all the costs of the bailouts of RBS and HBOS, despite the fact that both are clearly UK banks.  Then we have others claiming that an independent Scotland will be forced to join the Euro.  Which sits at odds with the claim by others that an independent Scotland will not actually be in the EU and will have to apply for membership.  Which of course might be denied - allegedly.  And of course there will be constant claim and counter claim about North Sea oil reserves.  Just how much oil is still there to be recovered.  How much it will be worth and finally, just where will the marine boundary between Scotland and England go.
All these and others are important questions and deserve serious and researched answers.  They are not of course questions that are unique to Scottish independence.  All countries which have become independent have had to find answers to these questions.  Since the fall of the Soviet Union there have been numerous countries in Europe that have become newly independent.  Most have done so without bloodshed.  Perhaps the most relevant for Scotland is the process whereby Czechoslovakia become the Czech Republic and Slovakia, both now full members of the EU.  The Czechs and Slovaks had to work out just who would get what out of the liabilities and assets of the Czechoslovak state.  Exactly the same kind of questions which are being raised in relation to an independent Scotland.  This was done through extensive negotiations.  Which is what should happen here.
Now normally negotiations would begin once both parties had agreed to independence.  But there is no reason why the negotiations cannot begin now.  The UK and Scottish governments could set up joint committees to work out the options and details of what independence would mean.  These committees would consist of UK and Scottish civil servants with the addition of outside experts nominated by both governments.  One such committee would look into the details of the economic and financial aspects of independence.  So instead of endless claims and counter claims about how much of the UK debt an independent Scotland would have to assume, this particular economic committee would present to the public the specifics of how the UK debt would be divvied up.  Now of course, it is perfectly possible that agreement may prove very difficult.  But at the very least we will know what is the basis of any disagreement and both governments will be able to publish their version.  Even in the case of some disagreement on the final outcome, it is likely that there will a great deal of agreement on many of the figures and we, the public will be much better informed.   
This would be the key purpose of starting negotiations now.  To inform, us the electorate, of precisely what Scottish independence would involve.  Of course the UK government is unlikely to agree to such a proposal.  They would see it as akin to conceding independence in advance.  However, if the Unionists are so convinced that the UK positively benefits Scotland and that independence would be harmful to Scotland, then such negotiations would only provide irrefutable proof of their case.  Perhaps they realize that their case is not so irrefutable as they would like to think.

Thursday 12 January 2012

A Referendum is Coming

So after lots of huffing and puffing a bit of clarity about the proposed referendum on independence for Scotland.  The UK government's offer to amend the current Scotland Act to give the Scottish Parliament the legal right to hold such a referendum is to be welcomed.  Despite lots of claims from the SNP to the contrary there was always the likelihood, if not certainty, that any go it alone referendum would be challenged in the courts, with all that could mean in terms of delay.  M'Learned friend, Lallands Peat Worrier has a very good and readable account of the potential legal difficulties here

However the UK government has done itself no favours with its blatant attempt to attach strings to this offer.  They just never seem to learn that the more they try to shackle Scots, the more Scots are likely to vote for independence.  In any case Salmond has pretty much resolved the key issue by announcing that the referendum will take place in autumn 2014.  A St Andrew's Day referendum anyone?  It is hard to see the UK government going to the wall to try and force an earlier referendum.  So it looks like Salmond and the SNP have got what they wanted.  A legally binding and thus challenge proof referendum on more or less the date they wanted.

There will no doubt be a few more public wrangles about the fine details of the referendum - who will supervise the campaign and the count etc, but with a bit of luck we can all get down to debating the merits of the case for independence.  Here I think the Unionists will find things rather more difficult than they expect.  Already we have countless references to making the positive case for the UK, but, on examination there is never anything of substance.  The most Unionists can come up with it seems is to hark back to the past and go on about how wonderful things were long ago.  When it comes to the present or the future they have little of real substance to say.  More on this in later posts.

One telling example of how rattled and worried the Unionists are is the suggestion that Scots living in the rest of the UK should be allowed to vote in the referendum.  This raises all kinds of questions, for example why just Scots living in the UK?  Why not Scots no matter where they live?  This of course then raises the problematic of who can count as a Scot?  The proponents of this idea can only justify this proposal on the basis of ethnicity or some kind of racial or national purity.  Exactly the opposite of the kind of Scotland that those of us in favour of independence propose.  Scotland is for those who live here and for those who in the future choose to live here.  And the referendum will be decided by the people who are living in Scotland and registered to vote at the time of the referendum.  Wherever they come from or whatever nationality they hold.

Friday 6 January 2012

UK = Mean and Nasty

I've always regarded our current UK coalition government as mean and nasty, but it turns out that the previous Labour government was just as mean and nasty.  This was certainly the case when it came to dealing with spending on the London Olympics, due to be held this year.  Remember, it's the London Olympics, yet the then Labour government decided that spending on the London Olympics would count as of benefit to the whole of the UK and not just England or London.  A rather arcane decision one might think, but the result was to deprive the devolved governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland of a cool £330 million.

If, as common sense would suggest, the spending on the London Olympics was primarily of benefit to London as part of England, then the other nations in the UK would have been entitled to a pro-rata increase in their budget in compensation.  As a result of the Barnet formula consequentials any English spending would have automatically generated this £330 million for the devolved governments.  However the then Labour government decided that in order to keep down the costs of the Olympics, remember the London Olympics, no such consequentials would be allowed.

This was an arbitrary decision of the UK Labour government.  Which has all too predictably been upheld by the incoming Tory and LibDem coalition.   All three devolved governments vigorously challenged this decision and their complaint went to a meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee which is, surprise, surprise, chaired by a UK government minister.  And this committee failed to resolve the dispute as the UK Treasury simply refused to concede any ground.  The UK government subsequently coughed up a measly £30 million to be shared among the three devolved governments.

The lessons from this affair are pretty clear.  The first is that the UK government, despite its title does not in fact represent the whole of the UK, but rather the more narrow interests of England.  The second is that the lack of a proper written constitution and recourse to an independent Constitutional Court means that it is the UK government which has final say on any disputes.  Not much in the way of respect here.  The final lesson of course is that for Scotland at least, the way out of this kind of mess is to vote for independence in the forthcoming referendum.  Who would want to be part of such a mean and nasty Union.

It is of course no great surprise that this decision has been somewhat under-reported in the mainstream Unionist media.  For a more detailed and informed account of the whole affair please read this post by Alan Trench from his blog Devolution Matters.

Monday 2 January 2012

Reading Challenges - 2012

I am becoming quite a fan of Reading Challenges.  Not that I officially sign up for many.  Rather, that they encourage you to extend your reading horizons a bit.  Stop you becoming too much of a lazy reader.  Anyway here are my chosen challenges for the year ahead.
The Mediterranean Reading Challenge 
As a great lover of that part of the world I could not resist this one, which is hosted by Black Sheep Dances.  The challenge comes in various levels and I have signed up for the scholar level, which requires me to read nine books from the region.  I regularly read quite a lot of fiction from both Spain and Italy, so I hope to make up most of the nine by extending my reading to include works from the southern and eastern shores of the Med, which is pretty much unknown territory to me and not just reading wise.  You can sign up here.
This is the fifth series of this particular challenge and is now hosted by Beth Fish Reads.  The challenge here is read six books, each one of which must have a different feature in its title. A bit of a fun challenge this one.  Here are the six challenges.

  1. A book with a topographical feature (land formation) in the title: Black Hills, Purgatory Ridge, Emily of Deep Valley
  2. A book with something you'd see in the sky in the title: Moon Called, Seeing Stars, Cloud Atlas
  3. A book with a creepy crawly in the title: Little Bee, Spider Bones, The Witches of Worm
  4. A book with a type of house in the title: The Glass Castle, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, Ape House
  5. A book with something you'd carry in your pocket, purse, or backpack in the title: Sarah's Key, The Scarlet Letter, Devlin Diary
  6. A book with a something you'd find on a calendar in the title: Day of the Jackal, Elegy for April, Freaky Friday, Year of Magical Thinking
The above titles are just suggestions and if you fancy this challenge you can sign up here
These are the only two challenges I have formally signed up for, though the East European Reading challenge from last year is continuing into 2012.  I didn't manage as many titles as hoped from this part of the world, so I am quite pleased that I now have another year in which to explore this part of the world.  More Boris Akunin will certainly feature in this.  I will also try and find some works by authors from Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary.
There are a few other reading challenges that I will try to follow to some extent.  The first is the Vintage Mystery Challenge, hosted at My Reader's Block.  Emma did this one last year and enjoyed it greatly, so I thought I would give it a go.  I have become an avid reader of crime fiction and it will be fascinating to discover or rediscover some of the masters from the past.  Too late to sign up, but I can still try and make the challenge.  This year the challenge involves particular themes and you have to choose one and then read eight books which fall into that theme.  You can see the full list here. Not sure which theme to go for, but quite like the look of Colourful Crime -  Books with a colour in the title.  The key requirement is that all books must have been written before 1960 and be from the mystery category - crime fiction, detective fiction, espionage, etc.
Another challenge which I will enjoy will be the Nordic Reading Challenge, hosted by Notes from the North.  This time it is not a year long challenge, but an open and ongoing challenge to read any book by any author from a Nordic country or a book set in a Nordic country.  I read lots of crime novels from Scandinavia and will continue to do so, which makes this a pretty easy challenge for me.  The real challenge would be send in some reviews of the books I read.  If you are tempted by a bit of Nordic lit, then you can find out more here.

My final challenge for the year is something completely different.  I have little experience of the world of Australian literature.  I have read a few books by crime writer Peter Temple - all brilliant and one book by Peter Carey, Theft: A Love Story, also brilliant, and none by a woman writer.  So time for a change.  For details of this challenge go here.  If you are interested in this particular challenge and like me have no idea of where to start then this post from Book'd Out has a list of ten books as your starter for ten.

Whatever your own reading challenges are for the coming year, here's hoping you succeed with most of them.