Sunday, June 24, 2012

Better Together or living apart together. The NO campaign begins.

It's the campaign that just can't say no. “Better Together”, the unionist campaign for the independence referendum, finally gets underway tomorrow trying to avoid the word “no”, because of its negative connotations. This may cause some voter confusion because if you google “Better Together”, you discover that it is the NHS patient experience campaign. We knew that Scotland wasn't in the best of health, but we didn't realise she was actually in intensive care.

Better Together brings to an end a curious phase in Scottish politics where unionism has been almost completely out of the picture. Labour has been so anxious not to be allied a “Tory union” led by David Cameron, that it has allowed the case for sticking with Britain to go by default.. Until now - as the former Chancellor, Alastair Darling, unveils the campaign at Edinburgh's Napier University. This was the venue used by Alex Salmond to launch the National Conversation five years ago and it's taken that long to reply.

Monday, June 18, 2012

 It's the biggest poker game in history. On one side of the table, the dowdy, conservative German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, on the other, youthful, radical Alexis Tsipras, leader of the Greek left wing coalition, Syriza, which is expected to win increased support in today's Greek elections. Could ever a financial crisis have thrown up an odder couple? Eyeballing each other over the future of the eurozone. Waiting for the other to blink. 

   The stakes? Around four trillion – that's the likely cost of bailing out all of Europe's busted banks if there isn't a resolution to the eurozone debt crisis. And right now, there isn't one.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Who are the English? Ask Ed Miliband.

   The shadow of Jeremy Clarkson loomed large over Scotland this week as Ed Miliband launched his latest bid to save the union. The Top Gear motormouth has said that if Scots vote for independence it would be like losing “a somewhat violent but much loved family pet”. Ed said wanted to persuade England that, on the contrary, Scotland's departure would be a “disaster for Britain”, though he never explained exactly why. Instead he promised that Labour would embrace English nationalism “We have been too nervous to talk of English pride and English character”, he said.

Questioned on Channel 4 News as to what these distinctively English characteristics actually are, Miliband answered, rather hesitantly, that it was things like “mustn't grumble” stoicism that has made England great, and also what he called the “English NHS”. Now, I would have to concede that Scots do their share of grumbling and moaning – the difference between a ray of sunshine and all that. But I fail to see how the NHS can be declared a uniquely English institution. Last time I looked, the National Health Service was being dismantled under the privatisation policies of the Westminster Coalition. In Scotland, the NHS has been preserved intact as a wholly funded public service. What Miliband meant to say, I think,  is that the NHS is one of those great institutions that kept the Union together in the decades after the Second World War. But by posing it as an answer to the question: what is it to be English? , he missed the point entirely.

But why stray into this territory in the first place? Why not let sleeping bulldogs lie. Well, English Labour MPs, like the former deputy leadership challenger Jon Cruddas, have been arguing that Labour needs to combat the appeal of the British National Party, that has been making inroads into Labour's council vote, by showing that English nationalism isn't simply the property of the far right. Why shouldn't Labour be patriotic too? Miliband also feels he needs to assuage English suspicion that moaning Scots get favourable treatment from Westminster.  However, Ed is not prepared to contemplate any English parliament or any reforms to the West Lothian Question. He still needs that cohort of Scottish Labour MPs if Labour is ever to win a majority..

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Spanish debt crisis is a crisis for all of us.

     Capital Flight may sound like the name of a new budget airline – in fact it's what happens when a country loses trust in itself. In the first three months of the year, Spaniards exported a total of e100 billion to London, Frankfurt, Paris - anywhere. The biggest flight of funds since records began. Citizens, firms and banks are hedging against the likelihood that Spain will depart the eurozone, crushed by the burden of its sovereign debts. The respected former Spanish premier Felipe Gonzales said last week that “Spain is in a situation of total emergency, the worst crisis we have ever lived through”.

Where did this come from? It was supposed to be Greece that was on the point of departure. Only last week we were all worrying about contagion from a “Grexit” spreading to other Mediterrannean countries. But the contagion seems to be happening before the disease. In fact, there's a possibility the patient may die even before it is infected, because the collapse of Spain – an economy four times the size of Greece – would be curtains for Europe, and probably for the world economy. It's not just too big to fail; it's too big to bail.

What is happening to Spain is similar to what happened to Lehman Brothers in autumn 2008, except on an epic scale. That was just a run on a Wall Street investment bank; this is a run on a trillion euro economy, the fourth largest in Europe. When entire countries go bust the reverberations are felt across the planet.. If Spain restores the peseta – and this is actually being talked about – then it would default on the huge debts owed by its private sector to international banks. They would go bust as a result, causing credit to cease overnight and international trade grind to a halt. There would be runs on nearly all European banks, not just the Spanish ones. Cash machines would close. It's as serious as that.