The Anglosphere Media

I haven’t always agreed with Martin Kettle’s Guardian columns over the years. They have mixed some good, pertinent analysis of what’s wrong with Britain with some unfortunate Blair-apologising. But of late I’ve felt that his commentary on what’s happening in Scotland just now has been quite good and more informed that many London-based commentators.

I write this because I really dislike overly-personalising political analysis; arguments should stand or fall on the basis of the content, not the person. So when I take his column today as a jumping-off point for a discussion of the skew-whiff nature of UK politics it is only as an example.

The basic argument in his column is that, in effect, the Scottish Government has abandoned reasoned, argument-based politics in favour of naked political posturing. He suggests that, faced with a barrage of detailed questions from George Osborne and some on-air comments from Barosso, the Nats have retreated into name-calling mode and have given up any pretence of statesmanship.

I am more than a little surprised. George Osborne flew to Scotland in the face of overwhelming SNP reasonableness. The SNP has taken a very modest approach to what it would seek in negotiations. George Osborne flew in to tell us that no, the UK will take the most aggressive and punitive approach possible to Scotland, seeking to impose on us all the liabilities of the UK but allowing us precisely none of the assets or rights. He made his speech to which only three pre-arranged questions from sympathetic sources were allowed. He refused any broadcast interview of any sort. As he ran to his car the STV political editor chased him asking him to comment on how the international money markets would view the collapse in the balance of trade in Sterling when it lost the value of oil exports. He refused to offer a word in answer and flew straight back to London.

That, apparently, constitutes a serious debate and serious engagement with the issues.

I watched a reasonable amount of BBC coverage from London. I can’t remember anyone explaining sufficiently well what happens if Scotland’s exports are removed from the UK books. One has to assume that this is because the answer is uncomfortable for ‘Great’ Britain.

Barosso is an unelected president of the European Commission which has no say in the acceptance of new member states. He is a right-wing politician who was allied to the same block of European right-wing political parties of which Spanish PM Rajoy’s Popular Party are and the UK Conservatives were a part. I didn’t hear this mentioned – you’d barely know Barosso was a politician. He said it may well be impossible for Scotland to become a member of the EU. This view is shared by not a single serious commentator I have ever heard. The idea that Bulgaria and Romania are fit for EU entry but not a country that has already been a member for 40 years lacks credibility. And yet the UK media has barely contested the claim.

Serious debate?

Vince Cable recently made the front pages of Scotland’s newspapers and appeared across the UK media claiming that if Scotland votes Yes RBS will have to move to London. This had previously been denied by the Chief Executive of RBS. He subsequently denied it again and made clear that Cable had made no contact with RBS to check veracity before making his claim. So he was monstered across the media for joke politics? Eh, no, it was barely mentioned. Alex Salmond has repeatedly had to answer on whether ceding some sovereignty to London in a Sterling union would mean Scotland was even a ‘proper country’. Of course, every time David Cameron appears on the same programme he is asked whether Britain’s much more substantial hand-over of sovereignty to the WTO, the IMF and the EU means that Britain isn’t really a proper country. Except that never happens. Only Scotland has to answer for what every nation does.

Or Barosso again. Was he asked by anyone the impact on the Spanish economy when it is no longer allowed access to Scotland’s rich fishing marine territories? Was he asked how happy the EU would be to lose a nation that is very much a net contributor to his salary? There are 40,000 Spaniards in Scotland and many more EU citizens living and working here. Barosso seems highly excited about a right-wing EU attack on a part of a member state which seeks only democratic self-determination. Was he asked about the refugee crisis as right to work is unilaterally removed by him and his friends? Not that I heard. Oh the rigours of the UK media.

No-one denies that Scotland has contributed more to the UK than it has received every year for the last 30 years. No-one denies that if Scotland took its proportion of debt it would be significantly less indebted than the rest of the UK. It hasn’t been seriously challenged that Scotland would have less pension liability than the UK (mainly because we die younger) – and yet that is seldom mentioned. Or take a look at the Financial Times investigations on the UK pensions industry. It is the most corrupt and inefficient in Europe in which investors have routinely been ripped off in the most egregious ways. This was all presided over by Gordon Brown who also raided pension schemes and froze the state pension. And yet he is put forward uncritically as an expert on pensions.

Brilliant debate you’re all having. Brilliant. Really incisive.

Now let’s consider for a second how Britain would have responded if an EU Minister had arrive in Britain to say that you’re getting thrown out of the EU unless you sign up to the Euro entirely on the EU’s terms and that all your negotiated perks and benefits were being taken away unilaterally. Suppose this was done with a EU-prepared policy document. The suggestion is that Britain would calmly and sensibly engage point by point with the content of the policy document and refrain from any kind of nationalistic mouth-foaming. In reality, Britain’s politicians would be lining up to bleed from the eyes in rage and the media would be unhappy that ‘total hate’ was insufficient.

The same thing happens to us and Salmond says it is disrespectful. Even after months of being (in my view) far too reasonable in his negotiating stance. And he’s the provocateur in the face of George Osborne’s hand of friendship to the Scots?

Then again, the United Kingdom gets by pretty well by never asking itself difficult questions. This is a nation where economic wellbeing is measured in terms of retail sales and house prices and productivity, trade, innovation and industrial production are barely a part of national debate. Anything that Britain is bad at (it’s a long list) is off the agenda. There was a period in which the City State of London saw its economy grow by 35 per cent. Over the same period the economy of South Wales grew by three per cent. I find the use of the word ‘United’ interesting in this context. Of course, this is the subject of major debate in London as its metropolitan elite became conscious of just how much it has asset-stripped the rest of the peoples of this island.

Oh no, that’s right, it didn’t do that at all. We got Boris Johnstone in place of a debate about the reality of London’s management of Britain.

Salmond’s answers were all perfectly reasonable. The UK is almost certainly bluffing over Sterling and even if it went crazy and tried to force us out there are lots of good options for Scotland. Indeed, I’ve never disguised my belief that we shouldn’t even try to negotiate a currency union with for a currency that is managed on behalf of speculators and against the interests of manufacturing. The EU wants Scotland as a member very much – it is not even clear that Scotland CAN be thrown out. And any pensions industry in Scotland is almost certain to be less corrupt than the UK version.

I’m growing weary of ‘Scottish exceptionalism’. Why should Scotland have to answer to a different set of criteria to the rest of Britain? Once again, as in colonial India, what you do is normal, what we do is a ‘mutiny’. But above all, Britain is completely unwilling even to begin a conversation about what it has become – one of the worst developed countries in which to be a citizen. In case you didn’t know it, the following is the truth about Britain:

Britain is the country with the second lowest pay among advanced economies. Since 2010

British wages have fallen faster than all but three other EU countries – even though we work the
third longest hours. Britain has the third highest housing costs in Europe, the highest rail prices in Europe and is second worst for fuel poverty. Britain has the least happy children in the developed world, the worst infant mortality rates in Europe and some of the worst child poverty in the industrialised world. Britain’s elderly are the fourth poorest in the EU. Britain has the eighth biggest gap between men and women’s pay in Europe with childcare costs much higher than most European countries. Britain is the fourth most unequal developed society with a wealth gap twice as wide as any other EU country. Britain has the greatest regional inequality in Europe. Britain has the lowest level of trust in its politicians in Europe. Britain’s productivity is 16 per cent behind the average of advanced economies and has the worst record on industrial production.

This is only a sample. So when can we have a debate about this? When will London politicians be made to answer for the Britain they have created? It is Scotland that is trying – against the aligned powers of the London Elite and its client government – to draw a picture of a society that is different and better than what we have. Must we really have the agenda set by the empire we seek to escape? Must standards really be quite that double?

We know people think London is ‘grown up’ and other places are ‘childlike’. We know London thinks that anything it cares about is important and anything other places care about is unimportant. We know that London grants enormous status to other members of the international elite who agree with them and more-or-less ignores everyone else from here or abroad who doesn’t.

All I can say is that we’re trying to work out how to reform our economy to make it productive and to create high-wage jobs in a strong, secure welfare state. London is giving money to wealthy people to inflate the housing market and make it look like the economy isn’t a basket-case. What on earth makes you think you’re the grown-ups?

This was first published at Our Kingdom. reproduced with thanks.

Comments (25)

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  1. lastchancetoshine says:

    “No-one denies that Scotland has contributed more to the UK than it has received every year for the last 30 years. No-one denies that if Scotland took its proportion of debt it would be significantly less indebted than the rest of the UK”

    Look below the line, I see people doing just that pretty much every day.

  2. Clydebuilt says:

    Wonderful article Robin. deserves to be read wildly. Have sent to contacts.

  3. DougtheDug says:

    I read Martin Kettle’s piece in the Guardian and I even commented on it but although his tone was stronger than usual it was not new. I could put quotes in but it’s probably better to go and read the article yourself to get the full flavour of it.

    It’s fairly easy to summarise. In essence Alex Salmond is a regional politician but the big boys, the real power players, Osborne, Barroso and Brown have spoken and Alex and by the extension the SNP have been exposed as the regional bit players that they actually are. The SNP have confirmed their status as eccentric provincials by refusing to listen to and accept what Osborne, Barroso and Brown have told them and in Martin Kettle’s view they are children who are making a fuss and not doing what they are told by the real politicians.

    That view in the Metropolitan press is universal. Alex Salmond is always dressed in a kilt in cartoons, the SNP is treated with a lot less respect than UKIP by the broadcast media and the idea that the independence movement is not really serious, a bit of a joke in fact, is evident in the oft repeated claim that Alex Salmond didn’t really want a referendum. Independence was just a bluff to try and wangle some more powers for the Holyrood parliament and it’s fallen flat on its face with the refusal to countenance Devo-Something on the ballot paper.

    It’s simple establishment arrogance. They cannot understand that in Scotland politics are a lot less deferential than they think and much more aware than they are used to and that Osborne’s threat was correctly regarded as a threat, that Barroso was identified as a stooge a long time ago and that Brown’s reputation is minimal.

    I think that a lot of the activity in the last week has not really been based on shifts in the polls but by the establishment belatedly beginning to understand that independence has never been a bluff and that the Yes campaign is not a bunch of cranks in kilts with blue faces led by a Farage type figure but a very large chunk of the Scottish population who are well organised and well lead.

    “Why should Scotland have to answer to a different set of criteria to the rest of Britain? “

    Because of all the above and because those outside the establishment have to justify their views, the establishment doesn’t.

  4. Peter A Bell says:

    Martin Kettle claims to know a serious argument when he hears one. But he evidently isn’t listening to Osborne, Balls, Barroso or Brown. Or, if he has actually attended to what they have said, he has certainly done no more than listen. He hasn’t troubled to actually examine their assertions. Like so many London-based commentators, Kettle simply assumes that anything which comes from an “official” source constitutes a “serious argument”.

    Just taking Barroso’s latest intervention as an example, it is hard to understand why any political commentator worthy of the name would have taken such obvious inanity seriously. Others certainly noticed the inanity. For example, John Palmer writing in The Guardian on Monday 17 February was astute enough to recognise that Barroso’s remarks were “ludicrous”.

    What Martin Kettle fails to recognise is that the SNP HAS engaged with these “serious issues”. That engagement has continued over a prolonged period and has been meticulous in its examination of every aspect of every “serious issue”. If Alex Salmond is dismissive of Osborne, Balls, Barroso or Brown it is because he has a thoroughly prepared case while they are ineptly making it up as they go along with not the slightest evidence that they have thought things through.

    Mr Kettle would do well to bear in mind that the No campaign considered scare stories about mobile roaming charges and “thousands” of treaties to be “serious arguments”. Were he to listen a bit more critically then he would find that their other “serious arguments” are similarly vacuous.

  5. If there is a YES vote, as night follows day, there will be a currency union because that’s what best serves both nations. Don’t take my word for it, just ask Alistair Darling head of the NO campaign, as Gordon Brewer did on Newsnicht.

    Difficult not to get irritated by the references in the media and by Union politicians to the Euro Zone meltdown and conflating that with the dangers of a British CU.

    England’s and Scotland’s economic efficiencies are near identical and will remain so for the foreseeable future. That CU would not run the risks of the near collapse experienced in the Euro Zone which was borne of unsustainable disparities in productivity among its member states.

    Of course suggesting that it would run the risk makes for good propaganda, I suppose. I can say to the point of certainty that the strategy of the Union’s men is to lie through their back teeth about rejecting a CU until the polls close on September 18. Should there be a YES vote, they will change their minds on the 19th September, and privately agree with the Scottish Government to a CU.

    Consider the alternative: Scotland will not assume any UK debt and HMG simply cannot afford another 100+ billion liability on the books as their state is simultaneously diminished, losing close to 10% of its GDP, 90% of its oil and gas reserves and revenues, and a third of its landmass.

    England’s exports to Scotland amount to £59 billion but Scotland’s exports to England amount to only £48 billion. That is to say, England enjoys an £11 billion trade surplus with Scotland.(1)(2)(3)

    How are those England-based businesses reliant on that trade going to feel and fare if HMG cuts off its nose to spite its face by denying a currency union?

    For these and other reasons HMG simply can’t afford to do anything else other than enthusiastically agree to a CU, and anyone who tells you otherwise is either ignorant of the facts or has a terminal lack of intimacy with the truth.

    (1) http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Statistics/Browse/Economy/Exports/GCSIntroduction/GCS2011pdf
    (2) http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Statistics/Browse/Economy/Exports/GCSIntroduction/GCS2012pdf
    (3) http://www.scottisheconomywatch.com/brian-ashcrofts-scottish/independence/

    Citations are to 2011 and 2012 Scottish Global Connections Surveys (GCS) and Brian Ashcroft’s Scottish Economy Watch http://www.scottisheconomywatch.com/brian-ashcrofts-scottish/independence/

    My reading of the 2012 trade gap data in the (GCS) is at odds with his somewhat but I’ll defer to his judgement.

    The charts for imports/exports are to “the rest of the UK”, but Wales and NI totals are not significant relative to the imports/exports to/from England. Ashcroft noted this in his blog, too.

    1. bluetrail says:

      So the the Permanent Secretary to H M Treasury is ignorant of the facts?

      https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/279460/Sir_Nicholas_Macpherson_-_Scotland_and_a_currency_union.pdf

      Currency union makes no sense the the rUK. It is an electoral tactic by the SNP.

      1. DougtheDug says:

        The Permanent Secretary knows a lot less than he thinks and his opinion on the possible future policies of the Scottish Government is his opinion and nothing more.

        Scotland’s banking sector is far too big in relation to its national income, which means that there is a very real risk that the continuing UK would end up bearing most of the liquidity and solvency risk which it creates.

        Whether or not there is a currency union the rUK will still have to bail out the RBS and HBOS if they crash because the bulk of their activities are in the rUK. Banks are bailed out by the countries where they operate not where their nameplate resides.

        their persistently optimistic projections of North Sea revenues, which are at odds not just with the Treasury but with the Office of Budget Responsibility and other credible independent forecasters.

        Have a look at this graph, the OBR are way out in their predictions and always have been.

        Oil Price Predictions

        1. bluetrail says:

          You don’t deal with MacPherson’s first point which is that

          “First, the Scottish Government is still leaving the option open of moving to a different currency option in the longer term. Successful currency unions are based on the near universal belief that they are irreversible”

          Even the Fiscal commission suggest this.

          So what is on offer is a temporary CU that suits Scotland and not rUK. If we don’t agree to this then iScotland reneges on debt. That’s bullying aint it?

          A temporary CU would be a beacon for currency speculators and the pound would be all over the place.

          This is a good read http://www.futureukandscotland.ac.uk/blog/economics-scotlands-currency-choices

          Apart from so called “Transaction Tax”, Dodging the debt and other threats do you have any real positives to offer the rUK?

      2. Bluetrail: “So the the Permanent Secretary to H M Treasury is ignorant of the facts?”

        No, I think the PS is very capable, but I am not naive enough to believe he’s above being economical with the truth should the situation demand, if that is the wish of his masters.

        Incidentally, there can be no such thing as “rUK”. The United Kingdom of Great Britain is a legal and political entity formed by the Union of two and only two countries – the Kingdom of Scotland and the Kingdom of England (incorporating Wales). It was created by a bilateral internationally recognised treaty.

        It is the case that upon dissolution of the Treaty of Union, its associated enabling acts of parliaments, and any subsequent contingent intra-state treaties and agreements derived therefrom, the United Kingdom of Great Britain will cease to be.

        There can be no continuing state of an extinguished voluntary union of two nations. It is on its face a daft proposition. Consider the tautology:

        When the Union is dissolved, the Union ceases to be.

        1. bluetrail says:

          That’s interesting. Can you point me to any non partisan guidance that this is the case? Everything I have read suggests EWNI will be the successor state,.

          Doesn’t really move the goal posts re currency union though does it?

      3. DougtheDug says:

        MacPherson’s first point is very odd.

        He says the Currency Union is a risky business for the rUK but that one of the risks is that the rUK is not locked into it permanently.

        1. bluetrail says:

          Of course .. imagine the Euro if France said .. “Yeah we will join the Euro but will probably leave after a few years” ..

          that is in effect what the iScotland position is.

          In the fiscal commission (leave in the medium term) and even Pat Kane on channel4 the other night “Oh we will leave in a couple of years”

          Can you imagine what the currency speculators would make of that?

          A temporary currency union is not in the rUKs interest at all. Make no mistake

      4. DougtheDug says:

        Can you imagine what the currency speculators would make of that?

        No I can’t. Tell me what the currency speculators would make of Scotland announcing it was moving to its own currency.

      5. Bluetrail: “Everything I have read suggests EWNI will be the successor state”

        And that in and of itself should be a red flag. England is claiming it is the CONTINUATOR state (big difference) and has been since it adsorbed Scotland in 1707 at which point Scotland was extinguished.

        To illustrate the absurdity of this, David Mundell, the junior imaginary Minister for Scotland, affirmed to Gordon Brewer that, yes indeed, the legal finding that Scotland had been extinguished and incorporated into England in 1707, was the truth, Scotland did not exist and had not existed for over three hundred years!

        The minister for Scotland asserting that Scotland does not exists. Wonderful.

        Again, with respect to CU, if there is to be an independent Scotland then there will be a CU for the reasons outlined in my original post.

        “A temporary CU would be a beacon for currency speculators and the pound would be all over the place.”

        Hmm. Explain the mechanism and cite examples where speculation has resulted specifically as a result of this perceived impermanence.

        1. bluetrail says:

          The classic example in recent times would be the UK and ERM. Where currency speculators shorted the pound and ultimately forced the UK out.

          In a temporary currency union at the point where it would be optimal for iScotland to leave the currency to gain full control over fiscal policy (say a hi Oil price) speculators would bet on this happening by buying or selling Sterling.

          So as this interesting article suggests

          http://www.futureukandscotland.ac.uk/blog/economics-scotlands-currency-choices

          The international markets will dictate what currency iScotland and UK will have. The big risk is for an unstable CU which would fluctuate wildly end in a mess. This is where the mahoosive losses would be made and why the rUK will never entertain a CU.

          I have no objection to independence per se. Just that CU makes no sense. For me it is just an SNP referendum tactic and a good one at that 😉

          The question remains what would be the currency arrangements for iScotland following a yes. I think the Euro makes the most sense. There is the two year own currency rule but perhaps there is a way to work round that, the EU is a very practical organisation.

    2. FlimFlamMan says:

      How will the rUK finance its external deficit if it no longer has its own currency? Government borrowing? The borrowing would be in a currency they don’t issue. How would they acquire the currency to service that borrowing while constantly leaking money via the external deficit? Will markets supply funding to a nation which is losing its ability to repay that funding? Perhaps the private sector could be persuaded to run deficits instead, but that means constantly growing private debt. Is that sustainable? How many other nations are running sustained external deficits despite not having their own floating currency, and doing so without damaging their economies?

      1. Tony Philpin says:

        One of the very few economists who deserves respect (and who predicted the 07-08 crash) Steve Keen reckoned we’d be better off in Scotland without CU as the rUK is topheavy with Ponzi type financial services and money is easily drained from London following the next crash which we would not want to take us with it. Increasing private debt and asset bubbles fuels the UK economy but will inevitably lead to another crash as the system is inherently unstable. Paralleling the £ is probably the best bet early on – but we do need to insist on higher liquidity from banks – and gradually return to full reserve banking which carries no risk to the currency. The Icelandics had it right – they jailed the bankers. We are still rewarding them for failure. The truth is that Scotland is more vulnerable to a crash in the rUK than they are from us.

        1. bluetrail says:

          You could well be right. Not saying iScotland will be a failure – far from it. Just convinced a CU will be a disaster for both.

      2. FlimFlamMan says:

        @Tony Philpin

        Yes, Keen is one of a very few who warned of what was going to happen, and he’s now working with some of the others, the MMT people, who correctly predicted the crash, the problems of the Euro, and more. Sadly, none of them are yet in positions of real influence so we’re still in the failed neoliberal embrace.

        Westminster seems to understand nothing but financialisation and bubbles, and yes it’s horribly fragile. A CU would greatly increase that fragility, and the ability to recover from the next crash. I wouldn’t wish that on the people of the rUK no matter where I was living, but the contagion risk for Scotland would be substantial.

        I agree on banking reform as well. If Scotland’s economy, people, are to be properly protected there will need to be big changes. Full reserve banking is a bit of a red herring though; it’s a relic of gold standard thinking. Public banking is another matter though; there’s positive potential there. Failing that banks must at least be regulated so that they act to promote public purpose.

  6. Barontorc says:

    Well the Kettle’s well off the boil now – many thanks Robin, Doug and Peter. We’re in good shape with such as yourselves piling in. For what it’s worth, I’m forecasting 60+% YES.

  7. yerkitbreeks says:

    I often think the elephant in the room is the lack of high level Scottish and English legal opinion on the Act of Settlement and whether the two Kingdoms would be successor states, since this would radically affect the EU and other questions. Perhaps ScotGov is keeping this for later ?

  8. Richard T says:

    “George Osborne flew in to tell us that no, the UK will take the most aggressive and punitive approach possible to Scotland, seeking to impose on us all the liabilities of the UK but allowing us precisely none of the assets or rights.”

    Well, the first part of this sentence is a matter of subjective perception, though I don’t see how it can possibly be factually supported.

    The second part, I suggest, represents just the kind of baseless hyperbole that Kettle had in mind. It simply bears no relation at all to anything said by Osborne then or at any other time. Or by anyone else, so far as I’m aware. “Reasoned, argument-based politics” it isn’t.

  9. Alasdair Frew-Bell says:

    Our response to this condescension, historically nothing new, must be a desire for fundamental national renewal. The Scotland we will inherit as a free people will have been shaped by our experience as a dependency, consequently much of that will no longer be “fit for purpose”. This entails a radical psychological change in our perspective of ourselves and of our neighbour: a recension of the national narrative. Essentially we rewrite the script and become a new people leaving the cozy cliché and myth of “true Scotchman unionism”, our equivalent of Uncle Tomism, far behind. Independence signals both a political and a cultural revolution. From the latter flows the eventual success of the former.

  10. TheBabelFish says:

    Reblogged this on The Babel Fish and commented:
    Good media analysis, what you DON’T hear in the MSM is often more important than what you do.

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