Tonight’s debate, if I believe Better Together’s briefing to Magnus Gardham in the Herald, will concentrate on the ‘untrustworthiness’ of Yes on oil predictions and the NHS. Or, if I take a different interpretation, Salmond will point out how you can’t believe a thing No says on either issue. It is the existential heart of the debate of course – who do you believe, if either?
Well, away from the domestic issues of the Scottish agenda I wondered what else was happening in the kingdom of Great Britain, spiritual home of the No camp.
As Alistair Darling prepares to issue warning after warning of doom to follow self-determination he might want to reflect on the reality of the country he wishes to preserve.
First, Barnardos says the UK’s poorest families have too little money to cover basic weekly living costs, let alone a trip to the beach (Bank holiday).
Their incomes have declined in recent years due to what the charity condemns as a “toxic mix” of rising living costs and cuts to working and non-working benefits. Welfare changes have included measures that break the link between benefits and inflation.
One in five families have less than £423 a week coming in, based on the government’s 2011-12 statistics for households below average income.
Barnardo’s said its calculations reveal that a family of four on this income could not afford a seaside trip in any of the popular locations it surveyed. Minimum disposable weekly income for the poorest families is £39. (Yes. That is £39 disposable)
Meanwhile, Labour’s own research of the activities of their Better Together allies reveals that the poorest areas of England have endured council cuts under the coalition worth 16 times as much per household as the richest areas. Hilary Benn, the shadow communities secretary, said his figures showed the government had “failed to apply the basic principle of fairness” when allocating money to local councils. Councils covering the 10 most deprived areas of England – measured according to the index of multiple deprivation– are losing £782 on average per household, while authorities covering the richest areas are losing just £48 on average.
Hart district council in Hampshire, the least deprived local authority, is losing £28 per household, while in Liverpool District B, the most deprived area, the figure is £807.
So we see a shocking disparity loaded in favour of leafy areas which support the Conservatives and again it is poorer people who bear the brunt of vicious Tory policy – Tories Better Together are campaigning with. Labour are fighting to ensure the same Tories will be able to run the country on average every 10 years. Then comes the sting.
However, Mr Benn confirmed that, given Labour’s commitment to matching the government’s spending plans for 2015-16, a government led by Ed Miliband would not be in a position to raise overall council spending.
That is Labour’s bind. They are committed to the same austerity budget as the Tories they complain about.
Instead Labour would focus on distributing money more fairly, he said. And I’m sure they WILL attempt to help Labour areas more if re-elected but it hardly speaks of radical politics to float all boats, does it? He means they’ll fiddle with the limited budget to help their voters just as the Tories are helping theirs. Hardly a sense of national purpose for social justice.
Those same suffering families mentioned above will be pleased to hear there is likely to be an interest rate rise before Christmas which will hit those living on borrowings to get by and on extended credit. If they have a mortgage they could find their homes under threat unless they are locked into a mortgage deal. The monetary policy committee split for the first time in years on the question of a rise. So it may happen soon. The Governor warned that ‘increases in Bank rate well ahead of any pickup in wage and income growth risked increasing the vulnerability of highly indebted households. Finally, an unexpected increase in Bank rate might cause sterling to appreciate further, bearing down on inflation and further impeding UK economic rebalancing.’
The value of the pound, much trumpeted as an icon of Union is currently weighing down economic performance. The strong pound does have benefits for holidaymakers who can afford to go abroad and in keeping the cost of imports down.
But it is hampering the elusive rebalancing of the economy by pushing up the cost of exports at a time when demand is weak in crucial markets such as Europe. This is Money says: ‘Britain is one of the biggest exporters in the world, selling everything from engines, cars and parts of planes to whisky and Burberry macs. But it still runs a huge trade deficit, with imports vastly outstripping exports.
The eurozone is Britain’s biggest export market followed by the United States, so the strength of the pound against the euro and the dollar is crucial.’
So poverty is rife in Deep Pockets Britain, the economic recovery is trailing behind other countries and looks extremely fragile with the fabled rebalancing no nearer, a big hit could be coming before Christmas with a rates rise and meanwhile Labour stands should to shoulder with the Tories to stop Scotland finding an exit from this neo-liberal catastrophe.
And, if you’re talking doom in Edinburgh as financial institutions plan an exit after a Yes vote, check this out from the Irish Times. ‘London hosts more than 250 foreign banks, many of which have based their main European subsidiaries in the UK capital and gained an automatic passport to operate across the other 27 countries in the EU single market for wholesale financial services.
If the UK were to leave the EU – the so-called “Brexit” scenario – senior bankers worry that Britain would be unable to negotiate the same passporting rights for its financial services industry. If these were lost, it would force many corporate and investment banking operations to leave the UK.’
At least four American banks are making contingency plans to leave London if there’s a Euro exit and only today Cameron is beefing up his exit rhetoric. Not that this is making headlines in Scotland where the No camp’s warnings of corporate flight from Edinburgh were front page news. It raises an interesting point though. Supposing Scotland does vote Yes – are those Edinburgh institutions going to decamp to London if its only a year or two away from leaving the EU? If we vote Yes it could be that Edinburgh becomes the destination of choice for overseas banks wishing to trade with Europe.
Merely some thoughts to hold on to as the slugging match gets under way at Kelvingrove tonight.by