Tuesday 12 June 2012

Scotland is Already Independent (in some things)

This is something that may come as a surprise to lots of people, but in many areas of life Scotland is already fully independent.  It is a fact nearly always overlooked by Unionists, who are so keen to demonstrate that independence will somehow damage us.  Yet in areas as diverse as sport and religion, Scotland is and more important, always has been independent.

Let us start with sport, one of the most popular activities of humanity just about everywhere.  In just about every sport, Scotland is, to use the Unionists' favoured term, already separate.  It is not just in football, golf and rugby that we have our own independent, sorry, separate teams and governing bodies.  Nearly every sport from cricket to volleyball is governed in Scotland by our very own, internationally recognised ruling association.  And as far as I am aware, not even the most ardent Unionist argues that Scotland should give up its independence in these sports.  Just look at the brouhaha over the fielding of a UK football team in this year's Olympics.

When it comes to sports, everyone accepts our right to be independent - to run things for ourselves and to be represented in the relevant international bodies in our own right.  It is also worth pointing out that in all sports we are fully independent or separate if you prefer.  This means that we are not subsidised by anyone, certainly not by England or the UK government.  Somehow we manage to successfully pay our way.  We may not be the most successful team in some sports, but hey, nor is England.  We accept with good grace and a few murmurs whatever we do manage to achieve and if it is not good enough then we try to work out how we can do better in the future.  But virtually nobody thinks it a good idea to give up our separate football team for a UK one.

The same can be said for another, some might say even more important facet of life - religion.  Here again it is an uncontested fact that all religions, or at least all Christian denominations, have their own, independent/separate lives and governing structures.  This is clearly the case with the Church of Scotland, which as its name suggests is a wholly Scottish institution.  Perhaps surprisingly to some, the same applies to the Catholic Church.  Despite the universal nature of Catholicism, the Church is run along national lines.  This means that the Catholic Church is separate/independent from the Catholic Church in England for example.  Scottish Catholics have their own direct line to the Pope, without the inconvenience of having to go through London.  Again the various Scottish religious groups manage to survive and provide services to their faithful, without the benefits of any kind of subsidy from England or the UK government.

Since devolution there is now a further range of public services in which Scotland is pretty much independent.  I refer to education, the Health Service, local government, social work etc.  All areas which are under the full responsibility of the Scottish Parliament.  Over the past decade or so, Scotland has become ever more different from the rest of the UK, especially from England.  We are pursuing an independent/separate line in the above areas.  And virtually nobody is advocating that we hand back power in these areas to Westminster.  The key difference between let us say, education and football, is that in the latter we have full control over what we spend.  Whereas with education, we can only spend what London condescends to give us.  So in relation to public services we are only partly independent.  

So why not go the whole hog and vote for full independence in 2014.  It is amazing that we are proud of our independence in sport and religion and we are equally proud of our separate education and NHS, yet Unionists would have us believe we are still somehow too wee, too poor to take full responsibility for everything - just like all other independent countries manage to do.

Friday 8 June 2012

Why pick on Syria? - Why not Israel?

I am somewhat amazed at the rather skewed media and political attention that is devoted to the situation in Syria.  The uprising and the bloody response of the government has caused great suffering among many Syrians.  Most of them civilians and some of them children.  However bad the situation is for some Syrians, I am not sure how western intervention will lessen the violence and the bloodshed.  Whether it is direct military intervention or supplying arms to the rebels, the result can only be even more deaths and serious injuries.  However my main concern here is the double standards that are once again on display, both by our media and our western governments.
However bad and appalling the violence is in Syria over the recent months it pales into insignificance compared with the violence inflicted on Palestinians by Israelis.  This week alone the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights reported 3 killed, 23 wounded, including 8 children, by Israeli troops.  Their report can be found here.  Other reports highlighted that Jewish settlers were on the rampage throughout the West Bank.

These were not of course isolated incidents.  Israel has been killing Palestinians for over 60 years now.  It was only three years ago that Israel unleashed Cast Lead, their massive murderous onslaught against defenceless Palestinians in Gaza.  This resulted in the deaths of over 1,400 Palestinians, including more than 300 children.  Yet what was the thunderous response of the western governments to this slaughter of the innocents?  Understanding of Israel’s right to defend itself - against civilians?  Regret at the deaths and nothing more.  No condemnation and no referral to the UN.  And absolutely nothing about military intervention to protect the hundreds of dying children.  Nor any chance of arming the Palestinians so they could better resist Israeli attacks.  In this of course our wonderful investigative media was largely silent if not outright supportive of Israel.
The lessons of this seems to be crystal clear.  The outrage against the deaths and sufferings of the innocent Syrians is permitted because the western governments don’t like the Assad regime in Syria.  When the Kuwaiti government was killing its own citizens there was very little condemnation from the western governments.  No surprise to learn that Kuwait is one of the West’s best friends in the Middle East.  And of course Israel can kill as many Palestinians as it can manage with nary a word uttered against.  Just to give a fuller picture of the violence committed by Israelis against Palestinians, here are the figures for the number of children killed since September 29, 2000.  The figures come from If Americans Knew.

Israeli children killed - 124
Palestinian children killed - 1,452
If there was any sense of justice within our western world, then it would be Israel that was in the dock for crimes against humanity.  But which of our brave politicians in the west is going to challenge Israel?

Sunday 3 June 2012

The Euro - One of Two Unthinkable Things Will Happen

It looks like things are going to get even more interesting for the Euro.  The uncertain outcome of the forthcoming general election in Greece has captured most of the attention, but it is events in Spain that are most likely to provide the tipping point  An exit of Greece from the Eurozone while very messy and of uncertain consequences for Greece, would not in itself prove fatal to the Euro.  Damaging yes, possibly very damaging but nevertheless containable.  This, on the economic and political assumption of "all other things being equal".  Which of course is manifestly not the case.  By all accounts Spain is in very serious trouble, with an enormous amount of money needed to clean out its banks.  Where will this money come from?  Even if the money is forthcoming, what effect if any will this have on Spain's disastrous economy?  Massive and rising unemployment and further austerity measures do not add up to much in the way of growth.  On the contrary further contraction is predicted and pretty much inevitable.

Faced with this situation the key question is can the Spanish government continue with its austerity policy?  Could any Spanish government?  While a Greek exit from the Euro would be unfortunate and unwanted - from a Eurozone perspective - a Spanish exit would more or less bring down the whole ship.  Neither Italy nor France could survive in the Euro faced with a massive Spanish devaluation - which is what would happen if Spain leaves the Euro.  The competition would be too severe.  A Spanish exit and devaluation would not be good new for German exporters either, while a collapse of the Euro is likely to be catastrophic for Germany.

Which is why the way forward is likely to involve either of two currently unthinkable outcomes.  Unthinkable that is to the members of the Eurozone.  The two "unthinkables" are 1.  the Euro is allowed to collapse or 2.  Germany accepts lots of debt relief, inflation and monetary transfers to other Eurozone states.  Neither is on the horizon at the moment, but things in the real economy can move at lightning speed.  The phrase about one of two unthinkables happening is from Paul Krugman.  He used it during a very interesting Newsnight programme on BBC2.  The whole programme is well worth watching.  You can access it here via the BBC iplayer.  The programme starts with the situation in Greece and the Krugman section starts at the 20.00 minute mark.  He discusses the options with another US economist, Ken Rogoff and despite their different perspectives, both agree that the only way for the Euro to survive is for Germany to bear a lot of pain.  Rogoff's view is that this will come anyway and it is up to Germany to decide which poison to take.  His prescription is pretty much identical with Krugman's second "unthinkable" - default on loans owed to German banks, higher inflation and financial transfers.  Some combination of all three is probably the optimum solution.  Certainly higher inflation in Germany seems to be the key to any survival of the Euro.  As Krugman points out, it is easier - both practically and politically - to improve Spanish competitiveness by raising the wages of German workers than by lowering the wages of Spanish workers.

The jury is out as to which of the two "unthinkables" will prevail.  The EU leaders will try to postpone any decision for as long as possible, but of course the financial markets may decide to take matters out of their hands and force the issue.  Look out for further signs of capital flight from Spanish banks.  The Newsnight programme also includes a wonderful section - starts at 31.36 minutes - in which Krugman single handed as it were demolishes the so-called arguments of two Neanderthals from the austerity and more austerity camp.  One of them, Andrea Ledson is even a Tory MP - Lord help us!

If the iplayer link above does not work, here is a link via youtoube to the section where Krugman and Rogoff discuss the future of the Euro.  Their discussion starts at 3.40 in.  And here is a link, also via youtoube to the section in which Krugman takes on the austerity monsters.