Revealing stuff about the Better Together currency mess. As expected the idea of an English veto via a UK referendum reared its head, not from the people as I thought, but from Alistair Darling in his latest desperate attempt to prevent his own countrymen getting full access to their currency.** (Look down to the bottom right of the page for the new Follow button. Press and sign up for automatic emails of each post – Ed)
This looked like flailing around to rescue something from the debris of the sterling stance and within hours it was duly swatted aside by Downing Street as reported in the Financial Times which made clear this was not on anybody’s agenda. Poor Alistair. It looks like humiliation upon ignominy as the different factions jostle for position and undermine him. Not so much a lighthouse leader as a piece of wreckage being tossed about on the waves.
We are deeply into what I call They’ll-Say-Anything Territory as argument after argument crumbles. The only question appears to be: Will the roof fall in soon enough before September or will they scrape home with a pyrrhic win and a legacy of inter-party resentment? It looks like the blame game is already under way as the idea of a decisive, game-changing result that obliterates Salmond fades into memory. Remember, that was the original intent when the Unionists convened at Westminster to work out a way of dealing with the referendum. They weren’t interested in Scotland’s governance or democracy. They had the numbers on their side so they would use the referendum as a way of destroying the Nationalists for good. If they clubbed together, they had enough support to outweigh the Nats, to frighten the switherers and prepare the ground for Labour and the Lib Dems to reclaim Holyrood, sending Salmond out of the game for good. They even intervened to make sure there wasn’t a second question which would have echoed the majority feeling. I think Cressingham, the Earl of Surrey, had the same tactic before the Battle of Stirling Brig.
There can be no doubt now, whichever way the referendum goes, that Darling is the fall guy. He isn’t popular in Labour, is loathed by the Tories, and Unionists in general want to believe in him but privately accept he lacks the charm and charisma needed for a hearts and minds campaign.
There is another problem here and it was articulated by Labour ex spin doctor Simon Pia on Scottish last night. He said Alistair gave the impression of knowing how the economy works from the inside whereas Salmond and Sturgeon just blustered about it. I think that’s the reason Darling has focussed so much on a technicality like currency in the mistaken belief it was a trump card. His mind is buried in the Treasury and, in his myopia, he imagines this obsesses normal people. To be fair, among the mortgaged middle he is probably right. But most of them are automatic Nos. To the majority of working Scots, it isn’t the symbolism of British Sterling that matters, it’s how many tins of beans and how litres of milk it buys at Lidl.
And Alistair’s compulsive parroting of the pound and Plan B makes it clear this is the high point in the No campaign, one he got the other parties to swallow their differences and follow, to Labour’s embarrassment, and even it seems coerced the Permanent Secretary to break from Civil Service tradition to expound in public. This was Big Bertha and it fired blanks. (Too many war similes?)
The currency row has also opened up for serious examination one of the underlying concepts in the debate…that this is big, powerful Britain against poor wee Scotland. Now obviously this is true in terms of population and geography but it is flatly wrong when looked at in relation to economy. The latest accounts may not look clever but the trend is in one direction – Scots raise and pay more in tax per head than the average Briton – £1700 last year – and on our own would be higher up the rich list than the UK. We are net exporters but rUK is an importer, we are backed by mind-boggling natural resources in oil, gas, renewables and, only this week we learn, in unclaimed coal deposits too.
Without us the British balance of payments is likely to double (think oil, gas, whisky and food experts) making its debts unsustainable leading to higher interest charges and with 10 per cent less of an economy to pay it back – the interest that is, not the debt. That will remain and will climb. Britain is bankrupt, technically and may have to resort to writing off much of its debt which is owned by the Bank of England through quantative easing. As an arm of state, the Bank might be instructed to forget the £375 billion it holds (35% of the total debt) as the debtor and the creditor in this case are the same – Britain. But what I wonder would the markets make of a country that took the Zimbabwe Option to its national debt? We are constantly told Scotland would be punished for not taking a share of the UK’s debt, so would rUK be exempt?
As Jim Sillars states in the Herald today, a confident Scotland would realize it is in the driving seat over currency. We don’t need the pound, either formally or on a sharing basis. But by God, the British need us. If the currency ploy was supposed to be the Dambusters, then Scotland is the last brick holding the wall together. If we go, sterling weakens, interest on Britain’s borrowing goes up, the debt gets bigger and the economy to pay off gets smaller. On second thoughts, Alistair is probably right to major on the Pound, not because it could win the referendum but because the keystone of the British economy is under serious threat and with it the wealth of Britain.
But wouldn’t it be better if they just admitted that instead of threatening and misleading? Wouldn’t you be more susceptible to an honest appeal that Britain needs your export earnings to avoid bankruptcy and default on its debts? If Cameron said: ‘We can’t get by without you. It isn’t just a love thing. If this were a divorce we’d have to say we need you. It isn’t really a choice at all. Without you we’d fall apart and because of that we’re happy to talk about any arrangement that makes sense for running Scotland. But please realise, you are an essential component of keeping this country solvent. You could have gone independent and taken your oil wealth 40 years ago. You didn’t. Thank you. Please for a second time, stay in the UK and make your wealth work for us all.’
I’d still vote Yes. But at least I’d be listening. Today, as it is, I just hear noise. As Professor Curtice says…BT is just background noiseby