Monday, 11 August 2014

Hae Ye Ever Taen A Richt Scunner?

Whenever my mother was really fed up with something, that was her favourite saying. We then knew that what was to follow had really got up her humph. I don't think I have ever been so scunnered with politics in my life and I can't think of any English word that comes anywhere near the depth of emotion evoked by that very Scots word, scunnered. I have been a political animal all my life, joining the SNP at age 15 in 1955,  spending the next thirty-five years involved - except for breaks through army and police service - , taking degrees in political science and economics and going through the highs of the 1960's and early 1970's to the depths of despair in 1979. Leaving the party in 1990 left an enormous hole in my life but the reasons for leaving were, to my mind, perfectly justified, therefore the degree of disappointment was tempered to some degree, by my determination to continue to argue the case which led to my leaving - opposition to the EU and a United States of Europe.

The scunner I have taken now, has nothing to do with my commitment to independence - which will never change - or to my immense interest in politics per se, the theory, philosophy, the determination to argue the case for a decent society; no, the scunner is with the people involved on both sides of the independence debate and the inaccuracies, half-truths and out and out deception, that is churned out daily, by both sides. The recent blog, "£750,000 Of UK Government Lies" covers much of this, contained in the latest UK Government leaflet, while the last blog, "If Scots Vote No, Blame Salmond" covered it in spades. A couple of days before the European elections, Bill Jamieson wrote in The Scotsman that for the first time in his life, he was seriously wondering if he should bother casting a vote at all, such was his level of disinterest. As only 33.5% of Scots bothered to get up off their backsides to vote in that election, the vast majority of Scots obviously agreed with him. As I type this, there is a piece being broadcast on Scotland Tonight, on "celebrity endorsement" and the effect it is having on the independence debate. If there is one thing that really heightens the degree of scunneration, it is to hear what Simon Cowell or J K Rowling thinks about independence and the coverage given by the media to every piece of trivia that dribbles from the mouths of the so-called social elite. Like the vast majority of Scots, if asked, my comment would be, "Who the hell cares?" As for the "Love You Scots, Missing You Already" love letter signed by 200 of that self-styled elite, you know what you can do with that.

Ask me what I think about the fact that another 100,000 Scots are going to be living in poverty, or what I think will happen to those Scots currently living in poverty BUT, who are in full-time employment and are struggling to pay their mortgages NOW, or HOW those Scots are going to be able to pay their mortgages when interest rates are pumped up because of the housing bubble in London and the South East of England? Ask me if I think Scotland needs a rise in interest rates just now, or in six months from now, and what effect that will have on the Scottish economic recovery? Believe me, that is of far greater interest to me and thousands of other Scots, than whether Michelle Mone has moved out yet, or whether she is still trying to make up her mind. She might find a few drunken students living next door, a much bigger threat than independence. Instead of asking Scots what will make the bigger difference, £1,400 of a potential bribe if they stay with the UK or, £1,000 potential bribe if they go for independence, why not ask them which of the two government ministers is telling the truth and why, in the latest spat over alleged taxation proposals.

On Sunday June 29th, Danny Alexander, Treasury Chief Secretary claimed in a letter to First Minister Alex Salmond, that the FM had finally conceded that a currency union with the rUK was now "off the table". He wrote, "Voters can only conclude from this explicit statement of fundamental fiscal divergence that you now accept that a currency union is not going to happen." The "statement" from the SNP, which provoked this letter, was to the effect that in the first three years after independence in 2014, Finance Secretary John Swinney vowed that under an SNP government, public spending would rise by 3% each year. This is in direct contrast to the debt proposals presented by the Coalition, which states that public spending can rise by NO MORE THAN 1% EACH YEAR. Under any currency union agreement, this simply could not be allowed, a degree of divergence which has been explained frequently, as being not just unacceptable, but IMPOSSIBLE. Several top economists and independence supporters have explained on numerous occasions, that a currency union, as outlined by the SNP's own Fiscal Commission AND accepted by John Swinney, as well as the Governor of the Bank of England, would simply NOT allow that to happen.

As always, Alexander's statement was dismissed by the SNP as, "adding insult to injury". That statement from the SNP did NOT mean that Alex Salmond had accepted a currency union will not happen. As far as Salmond is concerned, (did you see the debate?) a currency union will happen,. BUT, a degree of divergence of 3% in the borrowing levels in Scotland and the rUK, is NOT going to happen in any currency union that includes rUK and Scotland. It is that kind of nonsense that led to the crisis in the Euro and there is no way a UK government is going to allow it to happen in the UK. A recent paper produced by Jim Cuthbert for the Jimmy Reid Foundation shows quite clearly that the debt situation which prevailed in the UK at the time of the economic crisis in 2008, has improved only slightly in 2014. In his conclusions, Jim Cuthbert states, "The crisis of 2008 however, did not cure the problem; the emergency measures taken at the time prevented the systemic collapse, but only at the expense of shoring up the financial sector's balance sheet by quantitative easing, and by unprecedentedly low interest rates. In the process, the other sectors of the economy, which had already been weakened by the expansion of the financial sector, were further distorted." This is one of the reasons that Jim Cuthbert, a life-long nationalist, has argued in favour of a Scottish currency.

There was more coverage of the EU in recent weeks, than we are used to in the Scottish press as a consequence of the election of Jean-Claude Juncker to the post of President of the European Commission. As far as some of the UK media was concerned, the most interesting feature of the man is the allegation he is an alcoholic. David Cameron opposed his election from the outset and his failure to gain any support in the rest of the EU - with the exception of Hungary said to have diminished his already non-existent standing in the EU. How that can be managed is still a bit of a mystery. Alcoholic or not, the SNP were convinced they "could deal with this man", despite the fact his main aim is the abolition of the nation state and the creation of a United States of Europe. Ah well, we have dealt with worse, we elected UKIP.

It is pointless to hope that things will improve in the final few weeks of the campaign. My only consolation is that I will be on holiday when the rest of the country has to suffer the second installment of the "THE DEBATE". I don't think I could stand another version of the previous performance without doing serious damage to the TV. When we see what is happening in Ukraine, Syria, Libya, Gaza or other parts of Africa, where people are dying in their thousands, striving to build a settled home for themselves, where all they ask is to be allowed to live in peace in a country which is theirs, while we are squabbling about whether a few celebrities will go or stay if we declare some form of sham independence, we really should be ashamed of ourselves.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

If Scots Vote NO, Blame Alex Salmond.

There were numerous critics, many of them quite vociferous, of the early part of the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games, which was likened to a massive pantomime highlighted by "that kiss" by John Barrowman. The critics were summarily dismissed by the self-styled intelligentsia, who informed us they had missed the whole point of the exercise, which was to parody all the cliches associated with tartanalia, Brigadoon et al and it really was Glasgow humour at its best - edgy, off the wall and far too intelligent for ordinary plebs to take in. If a sizeable section of the Scottish public didn't understand the message being broadcast, what hope did the millions in the Commonwealth have, who had never heard of Brigadoon, had never visited Scotland and barely understood the accent, never mind the humour?

A similar approach is being used by SNP and Yes supporters who try to defend the obsession with a currency union that is on the point of destroying the independence campaign. With a degree in the subject, thirteen years of teaching and lecturing in it and thirty three years in the financial services industry, handling millions of other people's money, I do have some notion of what economics is about, what a currency union is, the advantages and disadvantages of currency unions, how currencies are managed and mismanaged and the various options an independent Scotland would have in handling its currency, in the event of a Yes vote. Despite all of that, I have to admit to being totally unable to understand Salmond's obsession with a currency union, because explanation there has been none.

In my 35 years inside the SNP, I never used the ad hominem approach in debate, it was never my style to attack individuals and since I left the party in December 1990 I have followed that course, despite being a regular critic of what I see as the party's lack of commitment to independence. Unfortunately, I am now going to make an exception to that rule and state quite bluntly, if Scots vote No in September, the person who will carry the blame will be Alex Salmond whose arrogance has now become unbearable. On the question of currency, under his leadership, the SNP has been up more blind alleys than the three blind mice, and no longer has any credibility left. Salmond claimed the pound sterling "was a millstone round our neck", wrote to Fred Goodwin to congratulate him on the takeover of ABN AMRO when wiser heads in the financial world were advising against it, and insisted Scotland should join the euro long after it was obvious to the world at large, let alone those dealing in finance, that the single currency was a disaster for half its members. Now he demands the rUK grant Scotland a currency union and London continues to control the Scottish economy, and we all agree to call it independence, more of which below.

Several of my critics on here tell me I fail to see the "wider picture", that the SNP has devised a ploy so clever, that the whole argument of demanding a currency union is simply a ploy that will leave the government of the rUK floundering in the negotiations that will follow the Yes vote. They tell me the negotiating position the SNP has devised has to remain a secret so that the government of the rUK will be caught out on the day. Of course, since it is a secret, my critics have no idea what it is, in fact, they have no idea if it actually exists, they simply claim it does. Who told them? They can't say, it is a secret, a bit like the "legal advice" that didn't exist. The problem with this scenario of course is, that now the Unionists know there is a crafty ploy to catch them off balance during negotiations, won't they be preparing for all the potential possibilities? We can't say because it is a secret. As a defense of the SNP's obsession with a currency union, it is absolute garbage and an insult to the intelligence of anyone with half a brain. It is also why Salmond's bluster and arrogance will not be enough to carry the argument. In fact, the ploy is so clever and opaque, it is likely to persuade the undecided to vote NO, caught up as they are in a maze of uncertainty.

The debate between Salmond and Darling was atrocious and there have been reams written about who "won", most of it as atrocious as the debate itself. There may be some doubt about who "won" but there is no doubt about who lost- the people of Scotland and the cause of independence. Salmond started at a disadvantage, having said for months he would debate with only the Prime Minister of the UK. On the night, he couldn't even manage the substitute, although Darling, for all the plaudits he has received, missed the golden opportunity to get the one answer to which we are all desperate to hear. So much tripe has been written and spoken about the currency union that people have lost sight of the most important question of all - INDEPENDENCE. The debate is now littered with dishonesty and distortion, none more so than in the relentless, monotonous mentions of the Fiscal Commission. This august body, with its two Nobel laureates has said a "currency union would be in the best interests of both Scotland and the rUK". The two massive caveats which accompanied that statement are NEVER quoted. They are, "in the immediate aftermath of independence" and "it will not give Scotland control of the economic levers". 

In other words, it is not independence. The Fiscal Commission had a great deal more to say on the agreements which would be necessary for a currency union to work, as I pointed out in my previous blog, "Will Scotland Be Independent In A Currency Union?" on 21/5/13, more than a year ago. One of the most important conditions was as follows, "a joint fiscal sustainability agreement is established to govern the level of borrowing and debt within the sterling zone". John Swinney, Finance Minister, is on record several times, as agreeing with the conditions laid out by the Fiscal Commission. None of this was brought up during the debate between Salmond and Darling. One can see why Salmond would want to avoid making mention of any of that at all costs, but what was Darling thinking about? Instead of hammering Salmond with, "What is your plan B Alex?" he should have said, "The Fiscal Commission laid out the following conditions for a currency union to work, conditions which your Finance Minister has accepted,
* The Bank of England will set Scotland's interest rates and control monetary policy, as it does now.
* The Bank of England will set the level of borrowing in Scotland, as it does now
* The Bank of England will set  Scotland's debt management, as it does now
* The rUK Government, as a consequence of the above, will have indirect control of Scotland's fiscal policy, as it does now.
Can you now tell this audience Mr Salmond, how, under these conditions of control of the Scottish economy, Scotland can possibly be independent, how you can fulfill the promises for change you have made, when your Scottish government will not control its own economy? How does that possibly mean independence?"

Not even the Nobel laureates would be able to answer that question and neither would Salmond.