Exporting Scotland

“Trade negotiations are exercises in mutual self-interest. They are not power plays, or coercions” – David Davis. Former Brexit Secretary.

The annual ESS report came out last week and – as is traditional in Scottish politics – it was pounced on by those eager to make a quick headline out of the numbers. When statistical reports like this come out it’s always better to take a bit of time to dive a little deeper into them and to discuss the details that can often be far more interesting than those initial headlines.

The Carta Marina showing some of Scotland’s important trading partners in the 1500s.

First though, we should talk a little about what ESS is and what it measures (as well as what it doesn’t measure). Continue reading

Advertisements

The Final Countdown

“We’re leaving together,
But still it’s farewell
And maybe we’ll come back
To earth, who can tell?” – Europe

We’re finally there, after delay and shambles, at the day of the “Meaningful Vote” on May’s Brexit deal. I’m about to commit that cardinal sin of political commentary and analysis and actually try to make a prediction about what happens next. May my desk soon suffer not as it has.

5527fb98-5ec0-4cf3-a156-3895b3d7e2ba

Source here.

Continue reading

Fishing Lines

“Teach all men to fish, but first teach all men to be fair. Take less, give more. Give more of yourself, take less from the world. Nobody owes you anything, you owe the world everything.” – Suzy Kassem

A political declaration has been published jointly by the UK Government and EU which aims to take the first small steps along the very long road between where we are right now with the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement out to the final trade deal and future relationship between the UK and EU beyond the expected transition period post March 2019.

Others will go through the whole thing in detail with far more competence than I can manage. I particularly recommend Ian Dunt’s Twitter thread here.

I do want to comment on one are in particular because it has already caused more than a bit of a fight up here in Scotland and as it does a good job of highlighting the political divisions involved in Brexit in certain interesting ways. Let’s discuss fishing.

RS-HMS-Scylla-colllides-with-Odinn-Credit-Ian-Newton

The UK/Iceland “Cod Wars”: The UK is no stranger to getting into a fight over fish

Continue reading

As Many As Are Agreed

“No democratic nation has ever signed up to be bound by such an extensive regime, imposed externally without any democratic control over the laws applied, nor the ability to decide to exit the arrangement.” – Dominic Raab in his resignation letter as Brexit Secretary.

I pity the journalists who have to do this kind of thing for a living. Especially the ones who have to wait several hours before seeing their article in print. A week is a lifetime in politics. Today, an hour merely felt like one.

BrexitAgreement

The Brexit Withdrawal Agreement has finally been agreed between the EU and UK negotiating teams. It has also been agreed by the Cabinet of the government – albeit only “collectively” (read: not unanimously – merely by majority. Rumours speak of an 18-11 vote). It now needs to be passed by the UK and EU Parliaments and then it’s done. So…what could go wrong?

So, what’s in it and what has happened

Continue reading

Excluding Growth

“Anyone who thinks that you can have infinite growth on a finite planet is either a madman or an economist” – David Attenborough

I have a bit of a bugbear about the way many of us approach economics and the future potential of things like an independent Scotland. We focus rather too much on chasing after “growth”.

This focus permeates much of our thinking about the economy and what we should do to improve it. It frames our analysis of policy to the point where we can sometimes struggle to imagine any kind of alternative. “Growth is good”…even when it’s not.

value

But we live in an economy where we have experienced near-constant growth for decades. We have not all been equal participants in that growth. Of the nearly $4.5 trillion added to global GDP between 2016 and 2017, 82% of it was captured by the richest 1% of people. The poorest 50% of people saw no increase in their wealth at all.

Faced with such rampantly growing inequality, there have been steps taken to try to, if not solve the problem, at least make a it more palatable to voters.

Continue reading

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.

Brooklyn_Museum_-_Blind_Men_Appraising_an_Elephant_-_Ohara_Donshu.jpg

Continue reading

Trumped Up Trade Talk

“Sooner or later every war of trade becomes a war of blood.” – Eugene V Debs

This past week has been an interesting one in terms of international trade news. President Trump announced, via a Tweet, that he was slapping import tariffs on Chinese steel and that “trade wars are good, and easy to win“.

The ripples of this announcement are still spreading but already countries and trading blocs like Canada and the EU are considering retaliatory tariffs.

The thing is, China isn’t even a particularly major player in US steel imports. It barely factors on any of the top fives by specific products.

US Steel

Continue reading