EVER since Denis Healey as Chancellor of the Exchequer found he could raise cash by selling off the Treasurys shares in BP in 1976 even socialist politicians have seen the revenue potential of auctioning off the states strange and vast portfolio of dormant assets. Labours privatisation of Qinetiq for £1.3bn (E1.9bn, $2.3bn) this year is an example.
Another candidate the Treasury wants sold is Scottish Water, the biggest of the British water entities. It is reckoned to be worth £2bn. No wonder Brown wants to float it.
Yet there is an exquisite anomaly. Scottish Water is formally under the aegis of the devolved government of Scotland. This is dominated by the Scottish Labour Party but in close collusion with the Liberal Democrats. To judge from some of the hostile remarks from the Scottish political classes, it would seem this slothful water utility is a sacred object. Water, they argue, is a natural right that cannot be vulgarised or degraded by reduction to the language of drainage, flows, soaks or, worse, balance sheets. Some refer to it as Gods Water. The implication is God is a socialist.
If the Chancellor were not a Scottish MP and the heir to the Labour Partys throne the Scottish establishment could better portray it as a desecration of a holy object but Brown cannot be portrayed as a heartless merchant banker hence the anguish in Scotland that is a pleasure to us market folk to observe.
Scottish Water supplies 2.2m people and 130,000 businesses. It supplies its customers from huge reservoirs that encircle Scotlands cities. It is the evolved result of mostly municipal enterprise. I have not seen it argued that private water flowed less freely or was of a poorer quality.
What will be amusing to watch will be the struggle between a Chancellors desire to raise cash against the emotional attachment to public ownership. Constitutionally Brown cannot instruct Scotlands First Minister Jack McConnell to yield this agency to the stock market but informally McConnell may be making an adverse career decision if he blocks the Chancellor. The Scottish Lib Dems seem hostile to privatisation yet Sir Menzies Campbells first policy prescription was to endorse the privatisation of the Post Office.
Even Scotalnds Conservatives are diffident about bringing Scottish Water to market. Murdo Fraser, their spokesman, urges it be reco