Battening Down the Borders

The UK Government phoned me last night. They are getting that desperate. The Brexit negotiations are well past being called a “shambles”. It’s a constitutional crisis of a kind that the UK hasn’t seen in decades – perhaps ever. The government is simply not equipped to deal with this kind of thing. Iain M Banks coined a term for this. An “Outside Context” problem. An event where nothing in the subject’s frame of reference or prior experience can possibly lead them to a solution. Banks described this kind of problem as one that civilizations encounter only once and in the same way that a sentence encounters a full stop.

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But there is a solution to the Outside Context problem and that’s to expand one’s context. To find someone from outside one’s one cognitive bubble who can see the problem in a different light.

And so the UK Government phoned me. I don’t know if I was first on the list, or last, or anywhere in between. I don’t suppose it really matters.

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A Silver Chain

“Whilst the purpose of this report is to specifically critique the report produced by the Growth Commission it is done so in the spirit of the principle laid out by the First Minister on the latter’s publication. If the Growth Commission report was produced to be discussed, then this report seeks to add to that discussion”

My latest report for Common Weal was been published this week. A Silver Chain takes an in-depth look at the monetary policy proposals suggested by the Sustainable Growth Commission.

Those proposals were for an independent Scotland to unofficially keep using the pound sterling – outside of currency union like the one proposed in 2014 – for a period of time until Scotland’s economy is deemed ready for the launch of its own independent currency by the means of meeting “six tests” covering areas such as deficit, foreign reserves and economic need. Our report suggests that the plan proposed, especially alongside the “six tests” will make it difficult, if not impossible, to launch an independent currency and that the proposals risk locking Scotland into a future of permanent Austerity not dissimilar to that experienced by some areas of the Eurozone.

The report can be read here or by clicking the image below.

Silver Chain Cover

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We Need To Talk About: The Growth Commission Report

If this is a discussion document – It’s time to start discussing it.

The Growth Commission’s long-awaited report is finally out and will surely take some time to fully digest. It has been described as a discussion document and a starting point for the revitalised case for independence; not the final word on SNP policy or national trajectory.

In many ways, the report covers ground now very familiar to campaigners in the independence debate. We’re all now quite familiar with the deep and systemic flaws of the UK’s economic system especially its regional inequality which, quite frankly, is embarrassing when compared to neighbouring countries in Europe.

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(Source: Eurostat)

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unDemocracy

“I think it would be a good idea” – Apocrypha attributed to M. Gandhi on his being asked what he thought of Western civilisation.

The UK Government’s handling of Brexit continues to be veer somewhere between being a shambles and a criminally negligent disaster.

From its position on customs which remains something like “We have no idea what we want and we’re damn sure we’re not going to lift a finger to plan for it.”

Through its tearing away from anything even remotely connected to the EU – including Euratom (which means good luck running a nuclear power plant or obtaining a medical radiological), the Gallileo satellite system (to which the British response was a petulant “We’ll build our own…somehow”) and fundamental human rights which protect us all from the whims of governments that act a bit like the current UK one does.

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We Need To Talk About: Hypothecated Taxes

Hypothecated taxes are designed to undermine the NHS – Prof. Richard Murphy

There’s been an idea floating around recently – mostly pushed by the Lib Dems but floated elsewhere too – that the solution to NHS England’s current, catastrophic crisis is an additional income-linked tax (either a new tax or an addition to income tax or National Insurance) which would raise money specifically for health spending.

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Queuing for bedspace in an English hospital

Other schemes have been suggested, like an addition to income tax to be spent on education. This idea of having a dedicated tax which raises revenue for a specific purpose is known as ‘hypothecation‘ and here is why it is a terrible idea.

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An Unequal Kingdom

“A system of government as close to federalism as you can have in a nation where one part forms 85% of the population” – Gordon Brown, 2014

The “F-word” is rearing its head again in Scottish politics. Federalism. An idea sometimes presented as a “credible” alternative to Scottish independence and a way of granting Scotland greater autonomy over its own affairs whilst maintaining the unity of the United Kingdom. Unfortunately, it’s also an idea that is rarely presented in any greater detail than that previous sentence.

Both Scottish Labour and the Scottish Liberal Democrats have flirted with this idea throughout their history and have been doing so again recently. In an attempt to raise the level of debate about this subject, I have just co-authored my latest policy paper for Common Weal with long-time constitutional activist Isobel Lindsay which you can read here or by clicking the image below. Isobel also has an article in the Sunday Herald which you can read here.

Unequal Kingdom Cover

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We Need To Talk About: The Deficit

Cutting the deficit by gutting our investments in innovation and education is like lightening an overloaded airplane by removing its engine. It may make you feel like you’re flying high at first, but it won’t take long before you feel the impact. – Barack Obama

Whenever we talk about national budgets, it doesn’t take long before someone mentions the “national deficit” and the “national debt”. Indeed, as I’ve noted in some of my commentary on GERS, sometimes it can seem like this is the only thing that makes it to the headlines at all. The almost unchallenged “wisdom” is that a government spending more than it raises in taxes is a terribly bad thing. It’ll leave future generations burdened with debt and, anyway, you wouldn’t run a household’s finances that way, would you?

This is a wisdom that has led us to Austerity and there is barely a politician out there who speaks for any other ideology. It’s not just the Tories. Corbyn’s team is at it, at least  by degrees and even Nicola Sturgeon often speaks the same language when defending Scotland’s finances. (And, yes, I’ve used that same language in the past too. Life is about learning.)

Of course, the root of the obsession lies with the fact that the “national deficit” is something that seems quite close to the politicians and therefore it’s something that they should be “sorting out”. But maybe the economy is a bit less simple than this. Maybe, like the fable of the blind men appraising the elephant, one can get a false impression of the whole by getting too close to one detail.

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