Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Spring Forward

I'm told that the depreciation of sterling following the Brexit vote has compelled consumables
manufacturers to make their products smaller in order to avoid putting their prices up. Well, they would say that, wouldn't they? But what, I wonder, is the explanation for years getting shorter? Almost before I'm certain that winter is over the seasonal migrations are under way.

Last week the over-wintering geese of Sliabh Mannan were packing their breeding plumage and heading for their summer nesting grounds in Sweden. Like normal families they set off on the journey arguing with each other about who should lead the way and what direction they should be flying. Down on the ground we humans just look up and wish them bon voyage.

Meanwhile the grey wagtails (above) have been arriving for a couple of weeks along the course of the Culloch Burn and today I saw the first house martin (left) of the season. He's timed it nicely again, because a cloud of midges were out in the sunshine yesterday evening.

However it's early yet for most of the swallow family and I've noted before that a single martin has arrived a week or so in advance. I'm not sure whether he communicates telepathically with the main flock about the climate or whether he's just determined to grab the best nesting site.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Enemies at Home and Friends Abroad

The Steamer Waverley
Setting Sail
One might have hoped the UK's  triggering of  Lisbon Article 50 would at least put a stop to Cassandra-like prophecies of doom at home. Surely the country would come together to make the best of the situation, like it or not?

Too much to hope for, I fear. The Scottish Government still wants to undermine the UK's negotiators with plaintive noises off, while many Remainers seem far more anxious to be proved right than they are for the country's wellbeing.

It might help if Remainers remembered the referendum campaign featured a dodgy prospectus on both sides and that Leavers weren't all ignorant and gullible; in fact we included several high-powered economists. The surging exports and solid economic growth since last June don't really resemble the catastrophe Remainers predicted, nor was a punishment budget required.

Moreover it would make more sense complaining about the Brexiteers' failure to deliver if the Brexiteers actually controlled the government, which they don't.  When did Theresa May promise loads of money for the NHS?

Let us consider the two biggest projects of the EU. (Since we opted out of both of these, we could only ever have been peripheral members henceforward anyway.)
  • The Euro is an economic disaster which can't be admitted because of the political fallout that would result, so they just let it cause thirty percent unemployment and chronic financial crisis in southern Europe instead. If we lived in Greece we might learn what it really means to have something to feel pessimistic about.
  • The Schengen Agreement is collapsing under the weight of uncontrolled migration and frontier fences have gone up all over Eastern Europe.
I have said before that political will is not enough to support a project to link so many economies by a common currency. The fudging of membership criteria did not begin with Greece, it goes right back to the foundation of the single currency when Italy's debt was almost twice the permitted percentage of GDP and France only qualified for the fiscal deficit criterion by a one-off privatisation of Thomson.

The point politicians failed to appreciate then and now is that the Eurozone membership criteria were not mere inconveniences to be circumvented but genuine economic convergence indicators. If you link divergent economies by a single currency you deprive weaker economies of the disequilibrium-corrective possibilities offered by the balance of payments and by currency devaluation, leaving only rising unemployment to provide a quite inadequate escape valve.

This is why it is not just Greece that has experienced severe dislocation but also Cyprus, Italy, Spain, Ireland etc. Even France has suffered. Although Germany has seen benefit from an undervalued currency it is now paying the price in terms of ever-increasing transfers to the hopelessly indebted zone members.

Does anyone really think the EU will return to being an economic powerhouse anytime soon? On the other hand outside the EU we have huge potential to develop new trading relationships with parts of the world that are enjoying rapid growth. The UK is not trying to make enemies or wishing ill to the continuing EU. We are simply seeking a wider circle of friends.

Though peevish voices in Europe may declare the UK must suffer 'pour encourager les autres' it is to be hoped that economic sanity will be allowed to prevail over political pique. Beggar your neighbour is not a good strategy for a continent that needs all the boost from trade it can get. 

And really - can they think of no better arguments for membership of the EU than to show how horrible they can make it for those who want to leave?

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

We Are The People

Anthropologically speaking, it is not at all uncommon for a primitive tribe to call itself 'The People' or sometimes 'The Human Beings'.

By definition in a tribal society, everyone who is not of 'The People' is an enemy. The tribal leaders are able to achieve a high degree of loyalty from their members, on the one hand by claiming that they know from their experience and wisdom what is best for 'The People' and on the other by maintaining an implied threat to exile any dissident, cutting them off from 'The People' and sending them out into an alien and hostile world.

Important problems present themselves for tribal leaders as members grow more sophisticated and begin to interact more with other tribes, for example by trading with them rather than just fighting them in the traditional way.

First, alternative sources of authority and alternative truths will be presented to members of the tribe. It will become obvious that other tribes have contrived to prosper without necessarily following the methods prescribed by the leaders of 'The People'.

Secondly, the tribal territory may become less precisely defined.

In the early tribal period of course nomadism precluded any notion of owning land. Once the tribe settled down to a more sedentary agricultural existence it was necessary to introduce at least a communal land-ownership concept in order that those who worked to grow food should also be able to enjoy eating it.

However once tribes begin to mingle then there arises the problem of whether anyone who lives within the territory of 'The People' should be regarded as a member of 'The People' or not.

Perhaps however of greater concern is the members of 'The People' who gradually lose their subservience to their traditional leaders and begin to suspect that peaceful mingling with other tribes is potentially better than enmity.

At this point, in order to defend their power, the tribal leaders will usually try and start a war.

Sadly it seems the SNP administration have declared war on a very large segment of the population of Scotland, probably still the majority. Whatever the outcome, it will not be good.

Monday, 13 March 2017

No to Another Referendum

For those in Scotland who despair at the thought of having to go through all the misery again so soon after the last independence referendum:

The Holyrood petition against it is at this URL.

The UK petition against it is at this URL.

Friday, 3 March 2017

Truth and Error

It's always easy to critique our opponents because, of course, they're always wrong. If they weren't wrong they wouldn't be our opponents,would they? Unfortunately our critical regard has to look both ways.

It's a lot more difficult to critique ourselves. I write as someone who once stood for election to the UK parliament as a Liberal.

The intolerance of dissent displayed by large numbers of self-styled liberal people today is about as far from classical liberalism as it's possible to get.

From the very inception of liberal philosophy it has been a fundamental principle that everyone has a right to his or her view and a right to express that view without being subjected to ostracism or vilification. The liberal response to perceived error is calm, rational argument, not howling, bullying abuse.

The totalitarian response to perceived error is to ban and suppress. You can never persuade anyone by these means, you can only alienate and increase social division.

If we want people to hanker even more for the good old days when, in rose-tinted retrospect, life was relatively comfortable and stress-free, then the way we are most likely to achieve it is to keep making the present as unpleasant for them and as unlike those fondly-remembered old days as we possibly can.

Which is pretty much exactly what we're currently doing.

Error cannot be overcome by stifling expression or shouting down; it only withers when exposed to rationally-demonstrable truth.

Truth, by contrast, cannot be destroyed by exposure to error, it can only be strengthened.

In fact, truth that is unwilling to listen to error and show error why it is wrong will soon itself become a mindlessly-recited dead letter.

The current attempt to deny any platform to error and protect us from each and every exposure to it will, perversely, conclude by destroying truth.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

A cast-iron mandate

Nicola Sturgeon today claims she has a cast-iron mandate for another Scottish Independence referendum.

That mandate presumably dates from the 2016 Holyrood election, when her government lost overall control and became dependent on The Greens for a majority.

Yes, I know The Greens favour independence, but I'm inclined to wonder whether their voters had it top of their agenda when marking their crosses on the ballot paper. Presumably, if it had been their priority, these voters could just as easily have voted SNP.

Needless to say her mandate does not date from the 2014 referendum, where the nationalists lost by a 10% margin. At that time they claimed referendums were a 'once in a generation' event. It now appears that referendums will only cease once the SNP wins one, or alternatively when they are no longer maintained in power by The Greens.

Looking at the catastrophic mismanagement that ten years of SNP rule has brought to Scotland's economy and basic public services, we can well understand the need for another bout of tribalist shroud-trailing to distract the electorate. Nicola Sturgeon's own popularity is at last begin to flag too.

On the other hand the SNP has still not come up with an alternative plan for a national currency. Surely they won't try and run the busted flush of sharing the pound sterling for a second time?

Moreover the oil price on which the last projected independence budget relied has halved and it is now reckoned that an independent Scotland would have a fiscal crisis worse than that of Greece.

In the Middle Ages it was traditional for the Scots to invade northern England whenever the English were distracted by a European war, but reviving this opportunistic policy during the Brexit negotiations is doubly inappropriate.

Firstly it prevents Scottish voters having a clear idea of what relationship with the EU would be the alternative to independence. It still seems probable that Spanish and Belgian vetoes would be deployed to prevent Scottish membership either as a new member or a rump continuing member, so Scots would be voting for a pig in a poke on both sides of the ballot.

Secondly it complicates the position for UK and EU Brexit negotiators, neither of whom could be clear whether the UK government was negotiating for the whole island.

The truth is that the uncertainty caused by the Damocles sword hanging over the Scottish economy will deter inward investment until the threat of another referendum is removed.

And, perish the thought, should the separatists ever gain their hearts' desire, the outrage they claim to feel over being dragged out of the EU against their will is likely to be as nothing compared to the outrage of half the Scottish population dragged out of the UK against their will.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Just Slaying A Couple of Dragons

1. By far the biggest threat to the Scottish economy is Brexit. (Source: the SNP, in resonse to virtually every economic bad news story for the last six months).

FALSE. The EU accounts for 15% of Scottish trade. The rest of the UK accounts for more than 60%. Even if Brexit resulted in the complete destruction of Scotland's EU trade, and there's no obvious reason why it should, it would do less than a quarter of the damage that Scotland leaving the UK Single Market would do.

Probably the biggest threat to the Scottish economy at the moment is the perpetual political uncertainty engendered by the SNP's determination to threaten a second independence referendum at any conceivable opportunity. Unlike the Scottish government, foreign investors can do sums. They know an independent Scotland would be a lot poorer and no-one really wants to invest in a shrinking economy.

AND if that weren't bad enough, Scotland is now the most heavily-taxed part of the UK. We have a lower level of income at which you start paying higher rate income tax, a higher level of big business rates and a higher tax on purchase of more expensive houses. Sure. Come and invest. Come and live in Scotland all you high-fliers. We guarantee you'll pay for it.

2. There are many possible forms of Brexit. The Government has no mandate to take the UK out of the EU Single Market / Customs Union / Euratom etc. etc. (Source: anyone who voted Remain who can't accept the result of the referendum and is still trying to keep the UK subject to one or more EU institutions.)

FALSE. The mandate was quite simple. LEAVE THE EUROPEAN UNION. In spite of which the determination to keep the UK subject to one or more EU institutions, and especially the European Court of Justice, continues undiminished.

Will the Remoaners please explain how the UK can cling on to vestiges of EU membership without being subject to the ECJ's power to arbitrate on all disputes?

Or how we could remain in the customs union and still negotiate independent trade deals with non-EU governments? 

No? Didn't think so.

There. That's those dragons dead. (I don't think).