2007 - 2022

From the Province of the Cat #32 – The Owl of Minerva

No people were ever liberated by one of these

No people were ever liberated by one of these

As the fighter jets take off from Cyprus the torch of their engine burn sears the raw wound of a three week hurt. One of the very important aspects of British foreign policy which independence would have shielded us from is being implemented in our name over the already ravaged desert landscape of Iraq. As usual, with not a thought of how to extract their military from a winless war, the Westminster government can hardly disguise their haste – subject to an ever so slight delay by the un-timely democratic inconvenience of the Scottish referendum – in committing cripplingly expensive ordinance to add a high profile blast of solidarity to US global interests.

The sordid segue of UK party political conferences which have shipwrecked on the rocky early weeks of Autumn have also shown us that the only thing that Westminster parties have learned in regard to Scotland is that they prefer the Union to progress, that a referendum on independence must never be allowed to happen again and that in “granting more powers to Holyrood” they plan to keep Scotland closer to heel. All three of them by proclaiming – or in taking a “vow” – to enhance devolution desire, in reality, to undo it. In other words, as Talleyrand said of the last Bourbon Kings of France, “They have learned nothing and forgotten nothing”. The democratic mask has slipped.

As we move away from the Autumnal Equinox and the constitutional light slips away ever faster from bright new morning of “a vote for No is a vote for change” the coming nights of “realpolitik”, of back tracking and reneging, promise to be long and desultory. There have been many theories posited as to why the referendum was lost: the old voted for their pensions; the middle classes voted for their mortgages; Better Together terrified the living daylights out of everyone; the SNP chose a couple of bad policy horses to back in the referendum race such as currency union and North Sea Oil; the vote was rigged and, no doubt, there are many other reasons or factors, some of which have petitions attached which are circulating across cyber space. The trick is to keep positive, to always look forward and never look back – look what happened to Eurydice in the underworld? We may feel we are in a dark cave at the moment but there is light shining in from outside. That light is the energy created by our belief in ourselves: the people of Scotland. We will make our own history, not Westminster.

In the preface to his mighty 1820 dialectical dance, “The Philosophy of Right”, the German philosopher Hegel wrote

“One more word about giving instruction as to what the world ought to be. Philosophy in any case always comes on the scene too late to give it… When philosophy paints its gloomy picture then a form of life has grown old. It cannot be rejuvenated by the gloomy picture, but only understood. Only when the dusk starts to fall does the owl of Minerva spread its wings and fly.”

Yes lost the referendum but won the argument. No won the battle but will lose the war. That is the conventional wisdom of the independence cause. It would be a mistake, I would suggest, to take too much comfort from that. As the owl is the symbol of wisdom when she flies now in this Autumnal dusk in Scotland what does she see? Is it a “gloomy picture”? Or, to misquote the rogue US Republican senator Ron Paul, is “truth really treason in an empire of lies”?

When it came to the crunch the Better Together message was all about money and it was, I think, a mistake for Yes to “out-money” them. As far as democracy is concerned markets are indicators of nothing and prices are not reliable signals. They could be if we had regulated markets and a balanced media, but we do not. What we have is a state embedded press and this is a form of information fraud just as explicitly as the state bail-out of corrupt financial corporations is embedded fraud. Both the media and the markets have made irregularity normal.

What the Owl of Minerva sees as she flies is that there is no transparency or accountability in either the political or financial systems as the recent £250m false profit statements of Tesco and the collusion of their accountants’ highlights and the lack, so far, of any legal prosecution is proof of a general corruption.

The pattern in the UK is one of wealth extraction not of wealth creation. The austerity measures enacted by the government on the majority of the people is a form of extortion. Budget cuts disguised as more devolved powers is what passes for politics and economics in a shakedown society where empathy is seen as weakness by an ever-increasing sociopathic form of governance.

The Owl of Minerva also sees as she flies that wages are down 7% while property values rise by 250% and that 97% of all money created in the economy is created electronically through mortgages but these are loans which have no collateral: this is what Wall Street calls “bubble trouble”. The good news is that house prices cannot rise indefinitely, so then what? You would be surprised, would you not, to learn that our imperial masters have no plan for that? Will it take some huge exogenous event to bring it all crashing down or even trigger a rise in interest rates? A zero interest rate facilitates debt. If such a financial meteorite were to hit the empire of lies will, of course, try to cover it up. That is their other pattern.

But even the sophists of Westminster cannot plug the three huge economic holes of debt (by the time the UK general election comes around next year estimates abound that the UK debt will be £2 trillion) credit and leverage – which is the ratio of a company’s capital (debt) to the value of its ordinary shares. Nor can they explain away that in Scotland savings and capital investment are virtually missing: they have either been made impossible (the minimum wage should be £30 not £8.00 if it is to match real inflation), been filched or frightened off. In all of this most of our politicians are either complicit or ignorant.

What Scotland needs is a genuinely alternative society with an alternative currency which can reassess value (both human and material) and how that value is used, spent or stored so that scoundrels like Tesco cannot weave their conceits in the light of day and wave their duplicities in our faces and sneer.

The Owl of Minerva flies over our pretence that we live in a free society where freedom of speech is sacrosanct but increasingly argument is thwarted by the laws of libel and that costs money so people are genuinely nervous of speaking out. In Caithness, for example, I have heard countless anecdotes of workers at Dounreay being warned that their jobs would not “be there” if they voted Yes. Fear, as Better Together has proved, works. Freedom, however you define it, is nothing without information (“more information!” was the cry of Better Together) and information is power and power is retained by Westminster.

That, for me, is one of the lessons of the referendum: that we live in a corporate state fuelled by fear, self-interest, property bubbles and paranoid markets with a servant press easily preoccupied with foreign wars and big sporting events. There used to a name for this kind of state: it was called fascist.

“It is dangerous to be right in matters in which the established authorities are wrong” warned Voltaire but it is even more dangerous not to try to understand what has happened, as Hegel alluded and no matter the lateness of the hour.

The Yes campaign could have argued that we simply lose the banks (RBS, BofS etc) and such financial gloomers as Standard Life. We could have argued that we should start new local banks to encourage savings and investment. Some, I know, did. It might have helped if the SNP instead of debating with the Janus that is Ian Wood about how much oil there is in the North Sea had advocated to reduce our dependency on oil. They could have also stopped reasoning so optimistically about the “UK market” and talked up developing new export markets for Scotland whilst pointing out the current dire performance of UK trade. The Yes campaign should have/could have sung loud and long about a dual currency, our own pound as well as the pound sterling, highlighting the future strengths of the proposed Scottish currency as against the probable decline in the value of the pound sterling and the faltering supremacy of the US dollar as the Russians and Chinese move away from trading in it.

The Owl of Minerva is circling over the dusky woods of history. One thing is clear through the mirk: this political system cannot deliver the change the Scottish people desire. Already we are seeing the party rogues falling out over the flickering light of the Westminster camp-fire. The long night of disappointment will soon give way to the morning light. What we will see then will be new to everybody.

© George Gunn 2014.

Comments (33)

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  1. Dan Huil says:

    Westminster will renege on its “vow”. Scottish unionist politicians will be exposed for what they are: traitors.

  2. paulcarline says:

    Should it have been £250 million (Tesco)? And wasn’t the threat that the Dounreay workers’ jobs would not be there if they voted ‘Yes’ – rather than ‘No’?

    Minor points of course … George is pretty well spot on with everything else.

    1. proud_yes says:

      That’s what I was thinking

  3. Matt Seattle says:

    Some welcome and intelligent differences of opinion from the ‘Yes’ consensus – though possibly even harder to sell to ‘No’ voters!

  4. Aye George, grand stuff

  5. George Gunn says:

    Aye Paul, you are right it was the Yes vote they were warned off at Dounreay. Maybe I’m getting to the stage where I don’t know Yes from No anymore. And yes (see, I do know!) it was a £250 million Tesco over-reach. £250 – how many tins of beans from Tesco is that exactly? Readers are the best editors.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Edited. Apologies for not catching those on way in. Tired NOse. I mean tired eYES.


  6. Crubag says:

    “The Yes campaign should have/could have sung loud and long about a dual currency”

    I’d agree this should have been a central plank – costed and timetabled (c. £40bn?) – Iceland can manage it! And it would have helped address the 47% who voted No for currency, price, EU etc. reasons (according to Yougov).

    But we also need to think about those who are ethnically British (I’m married to one) and who identify with Britain. According to the same poll, 27% voted No because of:

    “A strong attachment to the United Kingdom and its shared history,culture and traditions”

    Which interestingly fits with the Yougov survey which has 74% of those whose birthplace is elsewhere in the UK voting No. The 2011 Census reports that were 400,000 English, 40,000 Northern Irish and 20,000 Welsh origin citizens in Scotland. That is a substantial number in relation to the 45/55 margin, and people who see the world in that way will need to be accommodated somehow.

    1. Flower of Scotland says:

      I agree Crubag! I’m half English and I’ve always been SNP but the population of N E Fife where I live houses a good few English people who as far as I know were all No voters. This makes me feel a bit bitter when they come to live up here to benefit from free bus passes, free prescriptions and lower council tax, then vote against the country gaining Independence!
      The answer is that voters must have been born in Scotland or that we gain enough powers to eventually to have Independence, like New Zealand.

      1. Crubag says:

        I don’t know. It’s a knotty problem, but on balance I think those who are living in the country (even if they are not born there) should have the vote, rather than those who were born here but now live elsewhere.

        For the ethnically British, I think there needs to be more of a narrative (a love-bombing?) about the things that have been good about the UK and which we will still have in common – a lot of that is positive by comparison with other countries/political cultures historically – free press, religion, early democracy, rule of law etc. though has become rather ossified.

      2. Illy says:

        Born just north of London, lived here since nursary. Hard Yes.

        I think anything along these lines will lose a *lot* of the “social change, not ethnic nationalism” high ground on the side of Scottish independence.

        So much so, that I worry about your intentions.

        For the people who are “ethnically” British, I have no clue how to approach them on this. I know a hard No who disagrees with pretty much every current and predictable Westminster policy. Nice guy otherwise.

    2. benmadigan says:

      apart from actual birthplace there are people who genuinely see themselves as british – not scottish, welsh, cornish or irish.
      Their mindset may be due to years of BBC and ITV, school curriculum, little contact with members of other nations in the british isles, membership of the armed forces, police – whatever!
      They really do seem to believe that better together in austerity (war spirit of making do) is preferable to independence under any shape or form.
      Accommodating them is an issue not only in Scotland but also in northern ireland

  7. montfleury says:

    Not wishing to niggle, but mortgages do have collateral – that’s the house they are used to buy. And they’re generally funded by Chinese savings. The Sterling created electronically is mostly commercial loans.

    1. Eh… Remember the credit crunch? A mortgage based bubble in the USA . Bear in mind the banks create money through fractional lending. They then lend to people who use it to buy a property or whatever. They then charge interest on the money they created. They get actual money back in mortgage repayments which they then use to create more money whilst keeping all the interest which isn’t due at all since there was no real money lent in the first place.

      The banks do this illegally as that operate out with their operational legal requirements. Apart from that everything is just fine and there’s no need to worry about a much bigger credit crunch to happen.

      1. Scottie says:

        Fractional reserve banking has long gone. There is no reserve or liquidity ratio here. When banks lend, new money is created.

  8. Crubag says:

    @illy -I think my point is that we can’t present independence as a rejection of 300 years or more of shared history – that to carry that constituency (potentially the winning margin according to those surveys) the narrative may need to be about evolution of “British” values rather than a rejection of them.

    If I can borrow your language, the “hard Yeses” are in the bag already, so it isn’t them we need to reach.

  9. arthur thomson says:

    Those who live in Scotland and view themselves as British have an absolute right to do so. I think we should avoid viewing that negatively. I think an underlying problem for those of us who seek Scottish independence is the fact that those who view themselves as British simply sit tight and don’t meaningfully engage. They don’t have to because the British system works for them – the British in Scotland. In the months ahead we need to challenge their apparent sense of comfort and security Making war in the middle east, keeping weapons of mass destruction, adopting Victorian attitudes towards the poor, fracking without the consent of the people, a deliberate policy of low wage economics and xenophobia are all part of British values. We need to publicly attack these policies. make it clear that they reflect British values and are contrary to what we perceive to be Scottish values. We need to challenge and shame the Brits into coming out and trying to justify their position. Then I reckon a lot of British people will be inclined to reconsider their position and how they identify themselves. We might find there are less Brits and more people who identify themselves as English, Irish and Welsh people who are not inclined to justify the British State. They might find that we have much more in common than was previously thought and we might just find that more would become our allies.

    1. Great piece George. Though I can’t tell where you are emotionally by the end of it?!

      As for the British vs Scottish values (not in your piece but this is in response to much of the discussion) I had a different take on this: suggesting that Yes embodies the best of British values, whereas No embodies the worst. This had some real traction with those identifying as British and (ultimately) voting Yes: https://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2014/09/13/british-for-yes/

  10. Scottie says:

    Yep the uk has economy built on private debt. Private debt to GDP ratio of over 400 percent.
    Sadly it’s run by economic illiterates who follow mainstream economics which deems money and banks to be neutral and of no consequence in our economic model. This is preached by guys like Paul Krugman who is worshipped in the NY times.

    Falling salaries, higher debt means less money spent into an ailing economy and ultimately further default – where of course we will pick up the tab.

    Wonder what will happen when the penny finally drops. Will the uk govt inflate away it’s debt and leave us all broke? Then they will have ultimate power – it happened in Germany in the 30s.

  11. George Gunn says:

    when the penny finally drops it will splash into a messy puddle called sovereign debt default. Which is where the UK is heading. I live next door to the military-industrial complex. Its called Dounreay. Today the announcement of mega bucks for the Clyde is proof of where the Tories cherish their core values. No money for child care but no problem for Tornado fighters and aircraft-carriers. They have a fleeting affection for democracy.Everything we enjoy, every freedom, human right or improved living condition the like of David Cameron have opposed, throughout history. By the way a house is not collateral of it is worthless. Come to Thurso once Babcocks leave town if you don’t believe me.

    1. FlimFlamMan says:

      The UK government cannot be forced into default, no matter how high the debt. Any entity which issued debt, and also issues the token in which that debt is denominated can always pay the debt. If you’re the source of the token you can never ‘run out’.

      UK government debt is denominated in a token, a currency, called sterling. Sterling is issued by the UK government. How is it supposed to default, to ‘run out’?

      Scottie is absolutely right about mainstream economics and it’s failure to understand what money is and how it works. He’s right also about ‘fractional reserves’; it would be better to describe the existing system as one of ‘available reserves’ since the central bank always makes reserves available when banks need them.

  12. George Gunn says:

    Tomorrow there will be no reserves. What are you going to do then?

    1. FlimFlamMan says:

      Reserves are created by the central bank as needed. If more are needed tomorrow it will create them, if not it won’t.

  13. George Gunn says:

    No. There us no central bank. There is no tooth fairy. Flim flam invisible man

    1. George Gunn says:

      is, I meant No. There us no central bank. There is no tooth fairy. Flim flam invisible man

    2. FlimFlamMan says:

      No central bank? What’s the Bank of England then?

      And the tooth fairy? Is it impossible to have a sensible discussion of banking operations?

  14. George Gunn says:

    Yes you can. What is the Bank of England exactly? Could you explain it to us? Without the Fed, I mean. Its you that calls yourself Flim Flam Man

    1. FlimFlamMan says:

      You seem inordinately fascinated by my nick. Yes, it’s FlimFlamMan, and since all nicks are accurate I must be lying. I notice upthread there’s someone called Flower of Scotland. How on earth did a flower manage to post a comment online? Typing with their leaves? Amazing!

      It’s just a nick. Play the ball, not the man or woman.

      So, the ball. You want an exact description of the Bank of England. In a blog comment. In how much detail? I suspect you’re being facetious, what with it being the internet, and your comment about the tooth fairy, but oh well.

      The Bank of England is a central bank; the government’s bank. It has various duties, including setting the base interest rate, conducting bond operations in support of that policy, regulation (cough), and operating the reserve system. The reserve system is the means by which payments are cleared between different banks.

      Alice (another nick; try not to get hung up on it) buys a car from Bob, writing him a cheque. They both have the same bank so Alice’s account is debited by the value of the transaction and Bob’s is credited. Nice and easy.

      It’s not so easy if they have different banks, or it wouldn’t be without the reserve system. In addition to the above, with different banks Alice’s bank has its reserve account with the central bank – Bank of England in our case – debited, and Bob’s bank has its reserve account credited.

      Without this we, and other countries, would be back to the days where different banks issued their own money, which may or may not be accepted by other banks to clear transactions, and if they were would likely not be accepted at par. A mess.

      What if Alice’s bank made her a new loan to buy the car and doesn’t have enough reserves to meet regulatory requirements? It first tries to borrow them from other banks on the interbank market, and if there are insufficient reserves in the system as a whole it goes to the BoE and gets more, paying whatever the penalty rate is at the time.

      The Bank of England always makes these reserves available when needed, because if it refused it would lead to the collapse of the interbank payment clearing system, and thus to the collapse of the economy.

      Yes, that gives control to the private banks, which might seem to cause problems. The actual problems are more to do with what banks are allowed to make loans for, credit derivatives based on that lending and the overall parasitic nature of most of the financial sector.

      You didn’t ask for an exact description of any of that though. You’ll notice I didn’t mention the thing I’m not allowed to mention, but why am I not allowed to mention it?

  15. George Gunn says:

    Well, you gave it. And no, I am not being facetious. You don’t seem to have much time for banks, which is understandable. It seems to me that we are playing the same ball, unless I have misunderstood what you’ve written. It seems to me that you believe what the Bank of England says to you, but i don’t. If dialogue was freedom we’d be rich.

    1. FlimFlamMan says:

      Yes, it’s probably a similar ball.

      I don’t simply take everything the Bank of England says on trust, but then I don’t have to. The reserve systems of other countries work in much the same way – specific regulatory requirements aside – and I would set up the same thing if I were running the show.

      What exactly is it that the BoE says, or that I say, that you don’t believe? We might never be rich, but we might at least develop a better understanding of what sort of ball it is and what we might do with it.

  16. George Gunn says:

    aye, well we could. I think the whole financial system is a corrupt mess of debt and that it will come a-tumbling down but I know that makes me sound like Karl Marx. What would be educational for me, and I suspect for everybody else, is that you may want to write something for Bella on this subject so that you can have time and space to lay your ideas out more fully. I’m sure Mike Small and Kevin Williamson would welcome that.

    1. FlimFlamMan says:

      Sounding like Marx isn’t so bad; he was right about a lot. When it comes to the financial system there’s a huge amount of dirty bathwater but there is a baby in there as well. Essentially, the baby is money itself.

      I’ll set to writing something over the weekend, and if it doesn’t look too awful I’ll get in touch with Mike and Kevin.

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