Posts

Supporting Labour as Virtue Signalling.

Imagine you’re not very politically engaged. You’re reading this blog, which probably means you can name the whole cabinet. Most people could probably recognise the PM, Chancellor and Home Secretary, but only name two of the three confidently. This isn’t stupidity, it’s rational ignorance. The reading necessary to keep up with the day-to-day doings of politicians chases out other, potentially more worthwhile activities. Sport for example. Or spending time with the kids. Being knowledgeable about politics simply isn’t much use. We political animals find it very difficult to put ourselves in the minds of people who don’t immerse themselves in issues.

Right?

OK.

So imagine now the issue in question is “benefits”, specifically cuts to them. Do you wish to signal that you are a nice person? Then you loudly opine that “how could you increase poverty?” You’re against the benefit cuts because you care about people less well off than yourself. Therefore anyone who does support benefit cuts is a bad person. Stands to reason.

“But”, you might say, “there are incentive effects: look at the increase in low-waged unemployment. That is, in the long-run a much better route out of poverty than generous benefits which merely trap people into state dependency. Much better to give people the habit of work and the hope of long-term advancement it brings”.

Your non-engaged audience lost you at “incentive effects”, and their take home is you want to take money out of the pockets of poor people because “blah blah blah”. It is much easier and safer in an online world to say the easy, left wing thing. We live in an online world where your every utterance can be dug back up, taken out of context, extrapolated to the point of ridiculousness, more or less forever. Saying “benefit cuts are evil” isn’t going to lose you supporters. Saying “The Tories have a point, actually, perhaps tax-credits should be cut” will. Liberal economics is harder to express in a tweet than socialist economics. Liberty’s benefits are distributed and harder to point to. Socialism offers solutions that are easy, simple to understand, and wrong.

However out in the real world, people see benefits recipients, and resent paying for them. And down the pub, where conversations, rather than tweets happen, you don’t need to signal virtue by trite political opinion. You can do it by standing a round. People aren’t morons. They know how people work and with a bit of thought, the Tories make sense. Down the pub, cuts to benefits are popular.

Labour’s mistake is to take the lazy virtue-signalling on social media as what people actually think.

How Syriza crashed Greece.

Consider a single-currency area, like the UK. There are bits of it that are doing well. London and the South-East for example, that subsidises the rest from its excess taxation over expenditure. Only London and the South Eastern regions are net contributors to the UK treasury, but it is barely questioned there that it is reasonable for taxes levied in Reading be used to build roads in the Rhonda or Rothesay. Thus the Welsh for example are compensated for having an interest rate not quite suitable for their economy, as interest rates are set for the economic centre of Gravity, which in the UK probably lies somewhere around Oxford.

Now consider the Eurozone. There are no fiscal transfers, because Germans, who didn’t mind subsidising other Germans upon unification, baulk at subsidising Greeks whom they regard as feckless layabouts (erroneously – further discussion here). But the centre of Gravity of the Eurozone probably lies somewhere around Frankfurt. Thus the Germans, and their associated northern European countries have an appropriate interest rate, and the Spaniards and Italians do not. The Spanish Government, denied monetary levers in the run-up to the crisis, sought to cool an over-heating economy by running a fiscal surplus. You cannot accuse the Spanish Government of being “profligate”. The same is true of Ireland. Portugal’s situation wasn’t quite as clear-cut, but their debts were not out of control. 
Obviously, the asset price bubbles built up in Spain and Ireland, and the subsequent bust took out their banks, which required bail outs. Denied the stimulus of looser monetary policy, by an excessively hawkish European Central Bank, who’s setting rates effectively for Germany, the only other option to these economies is a devaluation in place – cutting wages and living standards until they’re competitive with Germans.
The falling tax revenues mean deficits. Lack of EU fiscal transfers mean Austerity, and meanwhile the ECB is still not responding with interest rates. For the periphery, even Governments like those of Spain or Ireland who sought so, so hard to be prudent in the good times, the Euro is massively pro-cyclical. There will be booms, there will be massive busts and there’s little, if anything any Government in Madrid or Dublin can do about it. This was predicted by economists from the notorious pinko Paul Krugman to arch-“neoliberal” Milton Friedman.
Added to this, the Greeks were not prudent. They near-openly lied about their debts and deficit to get into the Euro, hoping lashing themselves to the mast would encourage some degree of fiscal sanity. But the problems were too entrenched, and sorting them out meant unpicking the settlement of a civil war. The result is that while the Spanish and Irish have endured a savage recession, the Greeks “devaluation in place” was a depression costing 25% of GDP. A grinding, seemingly endless round of austerity and reform that left 50% youth unemployment and an economy in tatters.
The ironic thing about the election of Syriza in January 2015 is that Greece had done the hard work and by mid 2014 was the fastest growing economy in the Eurozone, and had a primary surplus (meaning they were balancing the books before debt service was considered). Given the bailout terms, Greece’s debt service took a smaller proportion of GDP than did Ireland, Spain, Italy or Portugal. By 2014, Debt to GDP in Greece was actually falling. All they needed to do was keep up the reform, and “Austerity” – continual tax rises and spending cuts would no-longer be necessary. The Germans would get their money back, eventually. Greek growth would take over the heavy lifting from austerity after years of tax rises and spending cuts. Economies emerging from such depressions can often grow fast.
Then, in January 2015, they elected a bunch of hard-left Yahoos, who encouraged a bank-run, shattered what was left of business confidence, and were forced to introduce capital controls because of a childish and unreasonable petulance wrought by economic fantasy which could only have come from a Marxist academic “economist“.  Privatise state assets? The horror! Make civil servants turn up to work, and don’t let them retire on 80% of salary at 58? The inhumanity! The Greek people may have been sick of Austerity. But if they’d just seen it through, they’d be heading up now, rather than enduing a 3 week bank-“holiday” and queueing up at ATMs for their daily ration of cash. Syriza have probably cost Greeks another, entirely unnecessary, 10% of GDP, and the resultant continuation of Austerity that comes with it. This makes Yanis Varoufakis (the “minister of Awesome” according to twats on Twitter) the most unsuccessful finance minister in history.

All the pointless yes/no referendum on the terms of the bail-out did was make a Euro exit, something Greeks apparently don’t want, much more likely. As it happens, Alexis Tsipras, after sacking Varoufakis, looks like a man who’s about to capitulate completely. It would’ve been better had he done so much, much earlier, and not caused such a catastrophe for the ordinary Greek citizens.

*slow hand clap*
There is a theory that all this was deliberate; a means to build socialism in the ruins of post-Euro Greece. But this assumes skills and ability “anti-establishment” parties almost never possess. Never ascribe to malice that which can be put down to incompetence.

This crisis is ultimately the fault of Generations of Greek governments, especially the ones who conspired to get Greece into the Euro by all means fair and foul. It’s the fault of the designers of the Euro who ignored all economic advice and wanted Greece in for silly, romantic reasons: Hellas is mythologised as the birthplace of a European idea of democracy. But the current acute crisis was not inevitable. And the blame for that is the hard-left morons of Syriza and the Greek people who voted for them.

“Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.” HL Mencken

If you elect the hard-left, you get a financial crisis. Every. Single. Time. Basically because capital is faster-moving than the people who want to confiscate it. Greece was warned. They did it anyway. The only thing people like Syriza and their supporters are any good at is shifting blame onto anyone but themselves. 

On bad Left-Wing Arguments

Elections are won by the side that can reach out beyond their core supporters and persuade a plurality of voters that theirs are the best policies. What is striking at the moment, is how completely the left have failed to understand their opponents’ beliefs and motivations. For this, I blame the echo-chamber of social media, and I think lefties are far, far more prone to this running down idealogical rabbit-holes than their opponents. Anyone debating lefties on Twitter will very quickly find utter incomprehension that anyone could think like that, and then get blocked. Labour is using social media to talk to itself, and therefore gets stuck with some really, really bad ideas.

I was arguing with a left-wing activist last night and I was put in mind of this great post from Fifty Shades of Dave. For her it was simply inconceivable that anyone could object to high marginal tax-rates on “the rich”, as soon as they had “enough”. “Enough” in this context was enough for a small flat. Taking more and objecting to paying eye-watering taxes in this world view was immoral, and utterly, incomprehensibly greedy. I tried to explain that someone on the higher rate tax was by no-means “rich”, that a 40% income paid at some point by nearly half of the population, and that going higher, on the additional rate tax-payers, didn’t raise much money. There was no acceptance that perhaps, if you’re going to levy a tax, the opinions of those who might actually have to pay it, are relevant. But to no avail. This moral view of taxation, and the view that the high-paid are simply immoral is deeply entrenched on the left.
The problem for the left create for themselves with this world-view is this: Poor people do not desire, or even expect to remain poor. For most “young families” “poverty” as defined in relative terms by the left is a phase. You’re poor when you’re setting up home and building a career. Poverty for me was a phase. It was for my parents, and indeed my Grandparents. Money was a struggle. And then for most, it ceases to be as debts are paid off, and income rises. By your middle age, you’re no-longer struggling for money. You’ve worked hard, and you can enjoy the fruits of your labours. If that’s a nice car, a bigger house or simply not worrying about having another pina colada on holiday, it’s no matter. Most people who’ve worked hard and paid their taxes, see these comforts as the just deserts of ‘knuckling down’.
Labour’s rhetoric during the election campaign instead thought of poverty as a Caste. Poor people who’re totally dependent upon the state for their very survival, who lack any agency to better their condition. And this world-view can only come from the Milibands of the world, who’re born into money, and for whom concern for the (abstract concept of) the poor is a form of value signalling. The only poor they’ve met are wheeled in by party activists for photo-ops. They are completely out of touch. in this they’re supported by professional farmers of the poor, whose interests are best served by keeping their flock servile and dependent.
But the poor, by and large, do not resent the successful middle aged plumber/businessman in a nice car. Especially if that person is a neighbour who represents a route by which the apprentice plumber can get to the comforts of a decent income, and the self-respect that comes from hard work. Labour was telling these people that they were too stupid to make it. That they were without hope without state help. And that if they did “make it” they were selfish and wicked, and would have it taxed off them. David Cameron is no less out of Touch of the poor than Miliband, but unlike Miliband Cameron is not pretending to be something he’s not, and much as Miliband would like it to be otherwise, the people don’t really hate and fear the Toffs as much as Labour think they ought. Indeed people often would quite like to BE a toff one day.
The left assume the poor will always remain poor and so would always support punitive taxation on “the rich” because only 20% of the population pay higher rate tax. But nearly 50% do AT SOME POINT IN THEIR LIVES” and even more aspire to. Fewer will get to the £100,000 62% marginal rate, but a good many would like to. Very, very few Tories utter the word “scrounger”, the Newspaper which uses that word most, is the Guardian, whose columnists put the word into Tories’ mouths, a comforting straw man, the right-wing ogre who hates poor people and wants to hurt them. And because they’re arguing, to applause from social media, against a figment of their own fevered imaginations, they’re ignored.
High marginal rates of taxation simply don’t raise much money. Yet this is now the moral shibboleth of the left, but this signals the hostility to “aspiration” that is crippling the labour party. No-one aspires to a better life on benefits, yet this appears to be the left’s offer to the poor. Tony Blair was relaxed about people getting filthy rich. Life on benefits is supposed to be a bit crap and limiting. If it wasn’t, there’d be little incentive to work. Now it is the Tories who’re saying “here’s the route out of poverty, we’ll smooth the road, and get out of your way”. Millions of new jobs, admittedly some crap, means millions of people, some of whom formerly existed on benefits, now have a wage. And that some of these wages are topped up by in-work benefits is a feature, not a bug of “making work pay” through the Universal Credit. There are no longer any people facing marginal tax/benefit withdrawal rates over 100%. There were in 2010. And wages rise through people’s lifetimes. People know this, it seems the Labour party don’t.
People didn’t vote Tories because they hated poor people, or the NHS, or were stupidly voting against their interests, as the great wail of pain and confusion from the left on Social media would have it, but because the Labour offer to people was utterly ghastly. Labour’s offer consisted of rich, Oxbridge people saying “Have some more benefits, you worthless pleb, you’ll never make it. And if you don’t like it, you’re evil, and we’ll tax you.” Is it any wonder Labour lost? David Cameron may not have successfully reached far beyond his base, but at least he’s trying. 
Just as Tony Blair had to smash it into Labour’s thick skull that nationalisation of the means of production was a bad idea to win an election, the next Labour Prime Minister will not come into office threatening anyone with a 50p tax. 

The Euro Referendum, Scots Nationalism and Tory Wars

I went drinking with a nest of pinkos at the weekend (the collective noun for lefties is “nest”, everyone knows this). What struck me is their constant refrains: “Tories should want Scotland to become independent”, and “Tories will implode with over the referendum”. The Tories ossified in their minds in the same way one’s music taste does somewhere between leaving school and getting a mortgage, in our cases some time around the turn of the millennium. Very few people in the media on the left understand the Conservative party or the Conservative mentality.

The Conservative party is an ancient, many-headed beast. It does contain English nationalists, but these are a small minority. The vast majority of Conservatives would take another 20 years of opposition rather than see the Union break up. As it is, for now, Labour has been slain in Scotland. The Tories have as much Westminster representation north of the Border as Labour or Liberal Democrats. This leaves an opening. 15% of Scots voted for the “hated” Tories, and the party came second in a dozen seats. As a major party of Government, I suspect the “hatred” is more media habit, than real. There is a good chance of a comeback in Scotland – remember the Party was once as dominant in Scotland as the SNP is now. No political hegemony lasts forever, especially it seems in Scotland, and the SNPs will be no different. Expect there to be one remaining ranty Scots Nat holding a Glasgow seat in following the 2040 election as some other party sweeps all before it. Securing the long-term future of the Union, however will be David Cameron’s main project as Prime Minister.

Which brings us to what commentators are confidently saying will be the centrepiece of this parliament – the EU referendum. Next to the Union, the EU referendum is now a trifle for the PM. Let’s be clear. There is absolutely no way ‘out’ will win. It’s major cheerleaders are too toxic. When the leadership of Labour, Tory, SNP, Plaid etc, as well as almost every major businessman, sports people, celebrities, The Sun, The Times, The Mirror, The Guardian and just about anyone else who matters lines up saying ‘in’ and UKIP with a handful of the Tory awkward squad and the Daily Express are for ‘out’, the public will notice. The vote will be 2:1 for ‘in’. For this not to be the case, UKIP, and the Tory right needs to lead a remarkable, energetic and subtle campaign nationwide, starting now. Yeah. Right.

So the result is a foregone conclusion. The nest of Pinkos assume the awkward squad will then all chuck their toys out of the pram. The fact is, for most of the Tory party, Europe is no longer a burning issue. We’d all go man the barricades should it look like we join the Euro, but we won that argument pretty comprehensively. We are not Euro enthusiasts, and look at Brussels with scepticism, relishing every opportunity to slap interfering eurocrats down. But we’re mostly grumpily in favour of staying in the project because ultimately the Tory party is the party of business.

So here is an opportunity for a Conservative prime minister to go to Brussels from a position of strength, and demand concessions. And we will get them. There is no way the EU felt the need to negotiate while it looked like the last Labour leader, Edmund Mili-something (I’ve already forgotten), was going to be PM. But now they need to consider a Generous offer – Germany cannot afford Brexit and Merkel will ensure enough is given to ensure the UK remains Germany’s bulwark against French economic dirigisme.

The point is, everyone’s already made up their minds how they’re going to react. The few headbangers will headbang about it being a “betrayal”, whatever Cameron brings back. They will be few in number. Half a dozen at most. There will be a large contingent who’ll take up the opportunity to campaign for ‘out’ but take great care to do so without being disloyal to the PM. The rest will slide in line behind the Prime Minister, hailing a great transfer of powers back to Westminster by an all-conquering leader. (Whether this is the case, is irrelevant). There will be few doing so enthusiastically, and a great continuum of gritted teeth lining up behind the PM. But Cameron has won an election. And that, for now, means his authority over his party is absolute. That is why he wants to accelerate the negotiation – get the major hurdle out of the way early.

The Tory party has made its peace with its Euro differences. The referendum has been delivered. The Euro “bastards” are not going to do to Cameron what they did to Major, however much the Labour party, nests of my pinko drinking buddies and the Media will be trying to replay greatest hits of the ’90s.

On the African Boat People and Katie Hopkins.

My CV reads a lot like that of Katie Hopkins. We both went to RMA Sandhurst. We both dropped out close to commissioning, and both on medical grounds. We both then became polemicist commentators: her on TV, me on here. She made a living out of it, I didn’t though. The Strapline of this Blog is “moderate opinions, immoderately put”. For much of what Hopkins says is genuine, realpolitik sense spoken in a way morons can understand it. And she winds all the right people up, sort of like a skinny, female Jeremy Clarkson, without the wit.

Then Hopkins referred to the people crammed onto fishing boats trying to cross the Mediterranean sea to get to Europe, as “Cockroaches” and there she and I part company. That such things are said and thought shouldn’t surprise anyone. That they are printed in a national paper, though, should. That they were yesterday was shocking, to the extent I don’t recognise my country. Hopkins as one who wanted once to be an officer in the British Army, and in the Corps to which she applied, should know better. Much better. Such rhetoric from a bully pulpit such as a Sun Column is how pogroms start. Germany went from Civilised to Nazis in a little under a decade. It could never happen here? I’m not so sure now.

So, Katie Hopkins put herself way, way beyond the pale to me yesterday. She will be forever tainted with those callous, dehumanising words. Ultimately, I’m a libertarian, and believe in the fellowship of man, and feel enormous sympathy with those driven by poverty, to seek a better life. I believe borders are an affront to human dignity, but they are often an unfortunate necessity, when there’s a precious example of freedom and good government to which adding too many ill-educated migrants brought up in war-zones would risk. Without the example of the West, the experiment in free-market liberal democracy could be snuffed out to everyone’s long-term dis-benefit. Europe cannot accept thousands upon thousands of people from Africa and the Middle east, nor should we be expected to, simply because we are rich, though we should, like the enlargement project seek to extend the principle of free movement, slowly, surely and incrementally to countries which share our values.

Given that the Northern European countries who’re the ultimate destination of the migrants, cannot and will not accept everyone who wants to make Europe home we must try to stop them coming. But nor can we let people drown at sea. It was noticed during the previous ‘Mare Nostrum’ rescue operation that the traffickers would simply get into EU territorial waters, send a mayday signal, and scuttle the boat, the rescue ensuring their charges made it safely to land. EU Navies were being used as a leg in the Journey. It was thought denying the Traffickers the use of this leg would stop the flow. It did not.

So what should be done?

Big picture: we need to work with the Governments, however corrupt and vile, where the migrants come from. The less vile the regimes, the less hopeless the economies, the fewer refugees and migrants will be tempted to leave and make their way to Europe. UKIP and their poujadiste allies in Europe are wholly wrong on Foreign Aid to suggest that budgetary and technical support to governments is “wasted”. No-one though should expect rapid results.

One of the reasons for the current tide is the instability in Libya. One of the things Gadaffi* did for us was to stop the boats. (I am not sure letting them drown at sea is much worse than the methods he used… but ‘out of sight out of mind’ is the key principle of international humanitarianism…). Western governments, France and the UK especially are partially culpable for helping topple the regime, but not committing the resources for stability. But the culpability is limited. Qaddafi* was going to be toppled anyway, the current chaos was probably inevitable, and the UK and France probably averted a massacre in Benghazi. Nevertheless, the Libyan authorities need help to secure the country. This will require an appetite for an Iraq sized counter-insurgency for a decade, but Britain and France. Yup… this is unlikely to be popular.

An attempt to stem the ‘push’ from the homelands will be slow. So we need to make the journey less likely to be successful. We need to police the waters, turning back the migrant ships to their ports of origin on the North African coast. This will require investment in Naval and Aviation capacity from the whole EU and their maintenance on station for decades hence, and being comfortable with the use of force. I’m not holding my breath there either.

The good news is for humanity, the forces needed to police the sea lanes in the Mediterranean will also be capable and on station to rescue migrants whose boats sink. There is no need to turn the guns on the people in the boats, nor is there a need to be callous about their survival in the water. We are better than that.  If there are people in need of rescue, however, the rescue at present means the traffickers and the migrant has won. They’re in the EU, and there are plenty of people able and willing to play the system to make sure they are never returned from whence they came. So we need somewhere where the rules can be applied a little more quick and dirty.

What the EU needs is somewhere rescued boat people can go to be processed by the Bureaucracy. And unfortunately this means a camp, somewhere outside the EU. This is the Australian approach, they have camps in Nauru and Papua New Guinea where migrants who don’t make it to Australia are sent, to be returned home. It’s likely, if this is a goer, an enclave will need to be taken from Libya, with or without the host Government’s permission. This would require the EU to contemplate the long-term use of Hard Power, and this being legislated for EU-wide and under the fire of the Human Rights lawyers. Nope, I’m not holding my breath there either.

Make no mistake. This is a horrible problem, dehumanising for all concerned. But given the unwillingness of Europe to accept people, the journey must be made as difficult, as humanly possible without making it inhumane. No-one comes out of this looking or feeling good. And those who accept some of the necessary steps above, will baulk at the others: A UKIPper despises the foreign aid and unified EU action, like a Green will abhor the necessity of Extra-territorial camps and capable Naval flotillas pointing guns at people.

This is what will work to stop the flow of migrants without letting them die at sea in their thousands. But this is not what will happen. This is why the African boat people are not being mentioned by politicians on the stump. Any soundbite on this subject, will be an anathema to one or other section of the electorate. There are no votes to be won in sorting this mess out, only votes to be lost.

*I never spell it the same way twice.

Politicians with their own views, whatever next?

The normally excellent Tim Worstall (who is a UKIP supporter, see comments) succumbs here to one of his party’s central idiocies: That it is the job of the politician to reflect the views of the electorate.

I’m pretty sure, in this democracy thing, that a political leader is supposed to reflect the desires of the electorate, not mold them.

This is, for example why Douglas ‘Judas’ Carswell voted against gay marriage, despite being personally in favour. I am not accusing UKIP here of hypocrisy, just being wrong.

Running a country is complicated. The control levers available to Government are only loosely connected to the machine of Government. Much of the day to day control is in the hands of a cadre of long-term civil servants, whose job is to implement policy and who act as dampers on any control input. I think of it like a rowing galley, where the tips of the oars are hidden from the captain’s view. He’s trying to steer the galley by guessing the movement through the soles of his feet. Some of the the galley’s rowers can’t be bothered, and many of the rest, don’t want to go where it’s going, and so pull in the direction of where they want to go anyway, and the other half who are pulling in the direction the captain wants to go, aren’t much good. Ultimately the captain can barely see what difference his changes to the beat of the drum and nudges to the tiller make (especially as everyone’s free to choose their own tom-tom drum, and progress through the water is barely steering-way) until long after he’s been ousted by mutiny.

I like this metaphor, because the command economy, where the rowers are chained and incentiveised with whips, go much faster through the water to some direction chosen by the management, but the Captain still can’t see to the tips of the oars, and they inevitably hit the rocks.

Sometimes the people on the watch-tower (think-tankers, philosophers, policy analysts, economists) see a looming shape in the fog off the prow of the galley. They shout to the captain who’s only just in earshot. If he’s lucky, the captain can, with almighty heaves of the tiller and a bit of cajoling of the rowers down below (those who can be persuaded to agree with him anyway) avoid the rocks (Thatcher) Sometimes not (Blair).

This metaphor can be extended indefinitely.

Politicians are the people to whom we outsource political economy. This is every bit as sophisticated, with arcane knowledge as being a Gas engineer or Lawyer. And when a Gas Engineer starts looking at political economy, he’s staring at a fog of unknown-unknowns at least as complete as were Ed Miliband to have a go at servicing his own boiler. The difference is Ed Miliband KNOWS he doesn’t know what he’s doing. But EVERYONE thinks they’ve got the political answers. Everyone thinks their politics are “common sense”.  But if you don’t know what’s been tried, you’re going to come up with some ‘common sense’ which is already proven wrong. Rent control, for example which is the great, unflushable turd of political ideas, or Free Parking.

There is a particularly UKIPish line of thinking which runs thus:

  1. I am reasonable
  2. Therefore my views are shared by reasonable people
  3. Everyone I know thinks [x]
  4. Therefore everyone who doesn’t think [x] is by definition, not reasonable
  5. A not reasonable belief can only be held for malign reasons
  6. Therefore the Government fails to agree with me because of conspiracy or incompetence.
Go on. Go to a pub in London, and ask the punters whether rents should be controlled or whether parking should be free. Then go and find an economist who agrees. 
Of course 
  1. Everyone think’s they’re reasonable, but not everyone’s got the same information to be reasonable about. Even twins disagree on stuff.
  2. People seek out like-minded souls and avoid controversial subjects such as politics with people who’s views you don’t already know. Tories particularly sociable around the “sound”.
  3. This is called selection bias.
  4. This is an incorrect but common logical inference (the mistake, if you will in this chain of reasoning)
  5. Attribution of motive is pure projection, and particularly common on amongst the stupid, particularly by Labourites, who cannot grasp the more subtle cause and effect of  ‘right wing’ economics, and by UKIPpers who cannot grasp the right end of a shit-stick, let alone a political argument.
  6. This is the crowning idiocy of UKIP the sheer lack of belief that a reasonable person might not be in a frothing frenzy about EU fish quotas or the Bulgarian who moved in next door. The belief that policy is run for “their mates in big business” or the despicable EU cabal.
But there is no British Political Elite. It’s true the sons of politicians find it easier through name-recognition and nepotism to get a foot in the door, but they also have the benefits of experience gained through osmosis in how the controls to the galley work. This is why people from all walks of life often end up doing what their parents did. But if you really, really want to be Prime Minister, you need the talent, luck, charm, skill and so forth, and you go for it. No-one will stop you. It’s easier for sure, if you read PPE at Oxford, but there are plenty of MPs who didn’t.
If there was a British Political establishment, you’d expect to see it represented at the top.
David Cameron’s dad wasn’t an MP he was a stockbroker. Neither was Gordon Brown’s who was a minister of religion. Nor, for that matter Tony Blair’s who cavorted in fire with little horns on his head, a black cape and goat’s feet (Leo Blair was an actor – but he may have been cuckolded by Belezebub). Or John Major’s who was also on the stage. Margaret Thatcher’s dad was a Grantham shop-keeper. Jim Callaghan’s dad, also Called Jim, was a Chief Petty Officer in the Royal Navy. All of these people entered politics, not because they wanted to join a self-serving elite (anyone think someone like Cameron would settle for a measly £142,500 a year in any other job?) but because they thought they could do it, it interested them, they got the skills and qualifications and they took their chances. They sought a safe-seat. Then they waited for an opportunity, building a reputation, getting to know the means to climb the greasy pole, until there was a leadership election in their party. Then they went for it. Then we voted for them by the million.
That’s not to say everything’s perfect. I even agree with your average UKIPper on many individual issues. But the job of the Politician is to apply his judgement, experience and knowledge of his electorate, to try to be a man FOR them in the job, even if he doesn’t always do what a simple majority of the noisiest ones want. Representative democracy isn’t a tribal headcount, and it is not majoritarian tyranny. It’s at least as much about what the majority can’t do to a minority as it is reflecting 50%+1’s views. 
Worse: there was no local referendum that say Carswell vote against equal marriage rights for homosexuals, but rather by his own admission, a look the contents of his letter bag, from a collection of angry, poorly educated bigots living in his god-forsaken, depressing retirement home at the end of the line, and who’ve now gone over to UKIP with him. The people who write letters are not the cheerful, sound fellows you sometimes meet down the pub, but the sour and bitter old bags who complain about the noise. 
Is that who you want running your country, or do you want to have people who’ve at least tried to work out cause and effect before they pull on that tiller?

The Oil Price Collapse, & why No-One Starves in the West.

Two years after the fall of Soviet Communism, a visiting Russian official seeking to learn about how free market systems worked, asked the Cambridge economist Paul Seabright “Who is in charge of Bread Supply in London. He was astonished by the answer: “No-One”.

No-one has starved in a free market system since the Potato Famine in Ireland in the 1840s, which happened because of the failure of a staple crop, and despite significant Government initial efforts to alleviate it. The free market failed there, for a huge number of reasons but that remains the only example, and much has been learned since. Many of the other famines in what were nominally free-market systems, like the Bengal Famine of 1943 can be put down directly to interventions in the markets such as the (democratically elected) Punjabi Government preventing the export of food to Bengal, whose other major source of food, Burma, was having a little local difficulty which became known to history as World War 2. Because of this intervention by the Punjabi government in the market in response to shortages, and subsequent inaction by the Indian Government, over a million people died.

The oil price rose throughout the ’00s in response to the rise of Chinese demand, lower interest rates and increased car use in the developed and developing world. Then people started to hurt. Oil price protests rocked the world. The cost of maintaining subsidised petrol in the non-petro-state middle-east is one of the sparks that lit the ‘Arab Spring’. In the west, cars got more efficient as the price (and taxes on petrol) rose. People bought smaller and more efficient cars. Highway speeds fell, as cars started to have ‘fuel economy’ displayed on the dashboard and people realised how much more it cost to drive at 90mph than 70. People changed their behaviour and drove less: ‘Peak car’ was in 2005 in the USA.

Meanwhile, engineers went looking. We had long known about ‘Tight oil’ (oil soaked into porous shale or tar-sands), but it was expensive to produce, and uneconomic to extract, until the prices rose. And when they did, engineers sought means to improve production efficiency. And they were successful. The spike of Oil prices in response to cheap money and the recovery from the credit crunch led to an enormous explosion of production in Texas and North Dakota in particular. The USA became the world’s largest oil producer in 2013. Cost of tight-oil production in Texas is around $40 and falling. In much of the traditional reserves in the North Sea, it’s $35.

There is the equivalent of five Saudi Arabias worth of reserves in the Eagle Ford shale in East Texas alone. (1.25tn Barrels of Oil Equivalent vs 255bn BOE) . And it is ALL economically viable to extract so long as oil remains above $50 per barrel. And there’s the Bakken in North Dakota and others. Peak Oil? Um… no.

So the response to a temporary shortage of Oil was for people to use gradually less in response to a price signal, and for people to go looking for more, in response to the same price signal. And the result is the glut of Oil the world is currently enjoying as oil that was prospected when the price was $120 is now hitting the market. My guess is we can expect $45 or so and then stabilisation around $50-70. Having got used to Oil at twice that price, it will feel like a tax cut for the world. (Except Nigeria, Venezuala, and Russia…).

What is true of Oil – the price goes up when demand exceeds supply – is true of wheat, and pork bellies, and olive oil, and corn or Tea. And the substitutes, barley, chicken, rape-seed oil, Sorghum, coffee, and so forth get used instead. People economise and substitute. So long as the market remains, it will become increasingly profitable to move stock from places of low value to places of high value where things are scarce.

Even the much-maligned speculation, or what used to be called ‘hoarding’ helps, by creating a reserve  in anticipation of higher prices to come, to be released onto the market in response to shortages. Hoarding ensures the commodity is always available at a price. And so no-one starves.

And the lessons: how to grow crops or burn fuel more efficiently, cannot be unlearned. So when supply returns, prices often collapse, the speculators often get badly burned, but the economy as a whole is richer as a lot is being done more efficiently.

Ah… I hear you say… but what about Africa: how can Africans pay the same prices as Europeans? But 21st century famines in Africa are almost never SUPPLY problems, but DISTRIBUTION problems. This isn’t about cash-crops being removed even as people starved, like Ireland in the 18th Century. We in the rich west are not taking African food because we can pay more, indeed quite the opposite. There’s often plenty of food, grown in the region or supplied as Aid, but due to poor infrastructure or more often, war and banditry, it cannot get to where it is needed. Where the rich west is holding Africa down is by preventing much of the continent from developing a cash-crop economy. The Africans are actively prevented from supplying our markets with cheap food by rich-world Farm subsidies, So roads aren’t built, and when the crops fail, food cannot get in from outside, either in response to rising prices or even Aid. Aid which often as a by-product, destroys the livelihoods of local farmers by undercutting them.

The European Union, USA and Japan, to name the most egregious examples have their boots on the face of Africa, keeping him down, but not in the way you’d think. African farmers cannot compete against our heavily subsidised farmers and so cannot invest or develop their production, even if they wanted to. The market for the end product isn’t there. Without that bottom rung, the rest of the development ladder is much harder to climb. Then, by demanding Africa opens up their economies to everything, except the one thing they have a comparative advantage, African economies struggle to compete and struggle to develop.

The fact Africa now contains some of the Fastest-growing economies on earth is a testament to the triumph of the human spirit in the face of adversity. Imagine how much better it’d be if we’d not retarded African development by to appease French farmers’ selfishness. Every famine since 1840-41, everywhere in the world is BECAUSE, not despite a Government somewhere intervening in the market. And the same is true of poverty. The African governments and their trade partners who’ve worked this out are doing well. But it took millions of lives, and is still not widely understood.

Rising prices are merely the means by which no-one starves and the pumps still have petrol. Would you rather we ran out occasionally?

Gordon Brown’s Legacy is Perpetual Austerity. Good.

“Why are you so ANGRY?”, I am often asked. I don’t mind people who disagree. But what I cannot stand are people for whom the managerialist, high-spending government IS THE ONLY WAY. These are the people who will, with graphs and “facts” confidently tell you that because investment fell while Brown was spending all the money, then Brown had to spend all the money BECAUSE THERE WAS NO CHOICE. The other option, that there was no investment, because Brown was hoovering up all the money and people which might have been used to invest, doesn’t occur at all to them. They are dangerous because they are plausible. They sound reasonable. They are confident of their analysis. Many of them are extremely well respected, and they often have the weight of academia behind them.

They all tell you the deficit doesn’t matter, that “austerity” is not necessary or self-defeating and we should instead be spending more.  And like Maggie’s 364 economists, they are wholly, ridiculously wrong. They may be right in every detail. But they were still wrong – the German Army of WW2 can plausibly claim to have lost no tactical engagements. They too were right in detail. They still lost. The 364 economists’ descendants defending the Blairite, last hurrah of the post-war welfare state are wrong because they’re extensively trained in the status-quo, and can see no alternative.

The state is too big. It spends 50% of GDP, and takes 45% or so in Taxes. Before WW2, this was around 25%. The state now seriously considers the contents of school lunch boxes, how much middle-class people drink of an evening or the font on a packet of fags a reasonable part of its remit. We are over-governed.

It’s trivially true, as the managerialists claim that Austerity’s ideological, that deficit fetishism is silly, but that does not make the coalition’s spending cuts insane. What was insane is testing the proposition that public services improvement was simply a matter of fire-hosing money. Most of the money spent went on wages – headcounts went up, and pay (especially if you include pensions) outstripped the private sector. “Austerity” is merely the bleating of a well-paid client state being forced to live within the country’s means once more.

Some spending makes sense: Road and infrastructure building for example – borrow at low rates to build things which generate real economic return. It’s a no-brainer to turn the A1 into a motorway or upgrade the A303 by Stonehenge. Deficit fetishists whinge. But there is no equivalent need to have public sector workers paid more than private sector workers. They enjoy better pensions and greater job security, so pay them less! Freeze their pay till they get the same as their equivalents in the private sector, whose wages are set by productivity, informed by markets.

There needs to be fewer public sector workers, doing less, and paid about the same as those whose salaries are not guaranteed by the tax-payer. No tax-funded salary should be more than the Prime-ministers’. The problem is the state is trying to do too much, and only a slow, continued squeeze on it will bring the public finances back on track. It is only when you come across the public sector at work – four hour meetings with eight people paid over £30,000 a year, in which no-one goes away with any actions, that you realise how much fat there is to cut. It’s not a trim that’s needed. A saw needs to be taken to whole arms of the state, giving PEOPLE back control of their own lives, for good or ill.

If you blew up every Sure-Start centre and fired their staff tomorrow, is there anyone who wouldn’t be able to cope? How many people would be immediately worse off without the attentions of social workers? Of course some would miss it. But many would be better off – think of happy families ripped apart by over-zealous enforcement of state-employees’ decisions. Victoria Climbe and Peter Connelly’s murders happened despite the tender ministrations of the state in these families’ lives. Ministrations which may encourage others in society to ‘look the other way’ in the face of horror, as someone’s paid to think about that sort of thing. Too many people have persuaded themselves “vital” services are vital, when in fact they’re part of the infantilisation of a population which is losing the ability to look after or make decisions for, itself.

On the day after Gordon Brown announced he’s to step down, his legacy is a British public carrying a burden of a state he built, which achieved little, and at enormous cost. The private sector is getting on with doing what it does, creating wealth, and coming up with new ideas, but it is shackled to a imbecile obsessed with box-ticking, and getting in the way. Oh, and the lumbering imbecile is very, very powerful, armed to the teeth, and can pick the private-sector’s pocket at will. Worse, the imbecile actually believes it runs things.

We need to find ways to reduce inequality which don’t involve hundreds of thousands of civil servants. Luckily, there are good solutions: a Citizen’s basic income (or similar ideas like a negative income tax) achieve redistribution, but don’t need a huge bureaucracy to administer. The Coalition’s universal credit is a baby step in the right direction, and very popular with the people to whom it so far applies. Do not be thinking this shrinking of the state will leave poor people out in the cold: on the contrary, it will FREE the poor FROM the social workers and benefits officers who blight their lives with forms and stress, just as the private sector needs to be freed from onerous regulation, which do little but create a vulnerable oligopoly where a chaotic but resilient market once existed.

The only thing we can thank Gordon Brown for is that no Future Chancellor will ever think they’ve abolished “Boom and Bust”; and he tested to destruction the idea that all that was wrong with public services is they had insufficient money or staff. That’s it. Done. The high-point of the post-war welfare state was reached under Brown and Obama. Bless him, Hollande in France is right now demonstrating what happens if you continue dancing when the music stops. The next revolution is that radical idea that the state should be leaving people alone. “Austerity”, in reality the self-interested bleating of people whose jobs to interfere in other people’s lives, has only just begun.

Thanks to Gordon Brown’ complete and total failure as Chancellor, as Prime-Minister, and as a man, “Austerity” is permanent. Good.

Why the NHS is like a Porsche 911.

The Porsche 911 suffers a fundamental design flaw: it’s engine is in the wrong place, over the rear axle, leaving the car struggling for grip at the front, and tail happy. Decades of development have seen the engine’s weight move towards the middle (where it should be), and by the 1990s Porsche was successfully keeping stockbrokers from going backwards through hedges, while keeping the overall shape that people seem to like.

The NHS is a lot like this car

“The NHS is being Privatised” is one of those perpetual political tropes, wheeled out by the hard left when Labour’s in power, and everyone to the left of David Cameron when the Tories are. This is an example of ‘the political class’ (broad definition; which probably includes political obsessives like me, who’re reading this blog) speaking a different language to the average voter.

What the NHS means to most people is a healthcare system, funded out of general taxation, free at the point of delivery, at which they can rock up when ill, no questions asked. Whether or not it is state-owned matters not a jot, so long as they don’t have to pay when they’re hurt. What the NHS means to a left-wing political activist on the other hand is ‘the only thing on earth which is both state-run, and popular‘. The NHS, following the triumph of Thatcherism, and the utter failure of traditional, trades-unionised municipal socialism, is all that is left of Atlee’s post-war consensus and so critical to the left’s image of itself.

But contrary to the Lefties’ belief, the NHS has always made use of significant private business. Thankfully, even Atlee didn’t nationalise the pharmaceutical companies. Most GPs are private-sector businesses which generate their business through NHS contracts. Services like cleaning and catering are often outsourced to private companies and have been for decades. And following reforms by the Labour party, some medical services are now run by for-profit businesses too. So the NHS is being privatised, a bit, by piecemeal and where appropriate.

But since the basic ‘free at the point of use’ structure of the NHS is not under threat (even the morons of UKIP don’t want to fight the electorate over this), the ranty lefty screaming about ‘profit’ just seems ridiculous. I too support free(ish) at the point of use healthcare funded out of taxation. But I suspect private businesses competing to deliver services, especially if reforms can mean money follows patient choices, will deliver improvements in the standard, efficiency and responsiveness of care. I hope the reforms continue, backing success and learning from failure. Eventually, the state will control the spine of the NHS, guarantee the principles, and provide funding; but leave the actual provision to people and companies who aren’t owned or employed directly by the state.

Which also brings us neatly to the Private Finance Initiative – something the left thinks is ‘privatisation’ too and the right thinks is state spending “off balance-sheet”. The purpose of PFI is to deliver hospitals now, with the private sector bearing the delivery risk, and generating the financing. In return, the state offers a long-term delivery contract. The contract rolls up the cost of delivering, managing, maintaining and often cleaning a facility, so cannot be compared directly to build costs.

The PFI is delivered by a special purpose vehicle, a company whose shareholders might include a bank, a construction company like Balfour Beaty, a service company like Capita and various others. Investors typically bear the delivery risk should costs over-run. And this is why PFI projects have a good track-record, better than that of the state, in bringing things in, on time and on budget. This is why the ONS said they were good value, despite slightly higher financing costs. The state is a lousy project manager; the private sector, when it stands to lose big money if a project over-runs, has a good track-record of delivery. The rapid spread of PFI round the world (another successful British innovation in political economy, like privatisation) wouldn’t happen if it didn’t deliver benefits.

And the NHS will survive, and the left will still rant and rage about “privatisation”, and the public will still raise an eyebrow, suspicious of politicians’ motives; but so long as the NHS remains free at the point of delivery, the electorate will demonstrate their ‘false consciousness’ by studiously ignoring the silly, shouty people demonstrating and their Socialist Workers’ Party placards.

The NHS is slowly being “privatised” and has been since it was founded. The Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership may open the NHS to American healthcare companies, if they aren’t already here. This is a good thing. Standards improve with the input of new ideas, and the abandonment of bad ones. Hospitals are built with the input of private capital and project management. An internal market improves responsiveness to patients’ needs. All this is ultimately underwritten and financed by the state from taxation. The problem with the NHS is not “privatisation”, it’s the fact it was ever nationalised in the first place. Like the Porsche 911, the NHS’s engine is in a fundamentally wrong place (Way out behind the rear axle, on Whitehall, rather than somewhere between the patient and the GP), but with decades of development and tinkering, that design flaw is being been overcome, as the engine is moved closer to where it should be. The NHS will remain Free at the point of use, just as the Porsche keeps its shape, but however good they are now, no-one’s copied the underlying design of either.

Scotland

Let’s get the identity thing out the way: I’m British. My Mother is Scottish, with Ginger hair and Gaelic-speaking parents, a fear of sunshine and everything. My Father is mostly English, with a Welsh grandparent and an Irish surname. So as far as I can work it out, I’m half Scots, 3/8 English 1/8 Welsh and there’s some Irish in there too somewhere, but I’m buggered if I can find it. As a result I have brown hair, but some ginger in the beard, and I too get sunburn at a fireworks display, and cannot stand direct sunlight. That’s the genetics. Then there’s the Identity. I was Born in Northampton, Schooled in Leicestershire, and went to University in Edinburgh for whom I played Shinty. I have ALWAYS regarded myself as British, Scottish (whom I support at football), English (whom I support at Rugby) and a citizen of the world.

My Late Grandfather was a fearsome Scottish Nationalist, despite having spent almost all his working life outside Scotland, serving Britain – in the Merchant marine, and the Diplomatic Wireless Service. I’ve enjoyed arguing ‘no’ all my life with him, and if Scots vote ‘yes’ I will take a crumb of comfort from the fact it’d make the old rogue happy. I learned to love the rough and tumble of political debate over my Grandparents’ table in Inverness. The Scots are a warm, friendly, resolute and resourceful nation of people, who have achieved, like my Grandfather, great things all over the world, but the political culture is utterly vile. It was in Edinburgh I discovered the swamp of bitterness and hatred that is Scottish politics. I’ve never seen anything quite as unpleasant, and I’ve some experience of Northern Ireland. The principle emotions expressed are resentment, and a particularly toxic brand of zero-sum socialism: what’s bad for the English must be good for me and Vice-versa. And this has been encouraged by the Scottish political establishment which is hard-left Labour, and often Harder left SNP, who have found the English, Tory boogeyman a handy catch-all on whom to blame all failures.

And some of Scotland is an abject failure. East Glasgow contains some of the poorest people in Europe, with some of the lowest life-expectancy in the developed world. This in a vibrant, powerful, wealthy city with arts and culture galore, represents a shocking failure of Glasgow’s labour Political establishment. These people, living in schemes where the men are unlikely to live much beyond their 50th birthday, have been told that it’s all “Thatcher” who closed the shipyards and steelworks, and the “Tories” who don’t care, shifting the blame from a Scottish Parliament and Labour Government in Westminster who’ve had over a decade to do something about it. But it’s easier to make people hate ‘the other’, than it is to rebuild such failed communities.

And the poor bits of Glasgow are the bits most strongly in favour of Scottish independence. Unsurprising, really, they do have the least to lose. Labour is reaping what it sowed.

So we come to the referendum. They’ve given votes to children, hoping they can be enthused by the Braveheart myth; not put what is BY FAR the most popular option – Devolution Max – on the ballot paper, allowed the Secessionists the ‘yes’ answer – the question could have been, “should Scotland stay in the United Kingdom?”; and there is no supermajority needed to destroy the UK, all at the behest of Alex Salmond. If he cannot, under these circumstances persuade people to leap into the Abyss, then the issue should be settled for at least a generation. The SNP got more or less everything it asked for in the negotiations over the referendum. To bleat about BBC bias, and “Westminster stooges” under these circumstances is rather pathetic.

Abyss? Scotland has the potential to be an extraordinarily vibrant place. The land of Smith an Hume, the Edinburgh enlightenment, whose ideas underpinned the USA, industrial engineers, soldiers and statesmen who built then dismantled the greatest Empire the world has ever seen. Many small countries do well. Scotland the second richest bit of the UK after London & the South east, and Aberdeen its second or third richest city after London and Bath, so it’s not clear to me the Status Quo is broken. The Scots population is sparse and so they get more state spending per head and also contribute more tax per head. English Nationalists (whom I despise too) focus on the former, Scottish Nationalists, the latter. The simple fact is any independent Scotland will be running a big primary deficit, but will lack the ability to finance it. Salmond’s plan to not take a share of the debt will make this deficit utterly unsustainable, as no-one will lend. Austerity? You ain’t seen nothing yet.

So I come back to the toxic political culture, and fear that it would rapidly become Venezuela, if the likes of Jim Sillars gets his way. The blood letting that would accompany a recession costing 4% of GDP, which is what happened to Czechoslovakia on its split, whose economies were much less integrated, would be terrible. Scotland’s independence teething troubles could be worse than Czech Republic and Slovakia’s velvet split – 70% of Scots GDP is “exports” to the rest of the UK. The deeply ingrained habit of Scottish politicians is to blame “Westminster” or “the Tories” mean Scotland would be ripe for the kind of “stab in the back, betrayal” narrative that encourages even more extreme nationalism, should it all go wrong. The yes campaign have encouraged their supporters to project all their hopes onto independence, and deserve credit that theirs is a civic, rather than ‘blood and soil’ nationalism, but there will be a lot of disappointment that it’s a lot, lot harder than they thought it was. The nationalist genie is out of the bottle, and it’s going to be hard to put it back, which ever way the vote goes.

Several companies, and plenty of people have said they’d leave Scotland if she votes ‘Yes’. Scotland will find it harder to attract companies without being part of the UK. No companies and few people have said they’d move to Scotland in the event of a yes vote. Not even Vivienne Westwood.

Of course a ‘Yes’ vote could see a resurgence of the Centre right in Scotland. Ooh Look.

But the forlorn hope that Scottish politics becomes sane on independence, is to deny the greatness of what Scotland and the rest of the UK have achieved TOGETHER: one of the richest, freest, most powerful and influential countries on earth. A leader in world trade, and leading member of many international clubs. And we’re forgetting what the rest of the UK provides Scotland. Scotland would have suffered horribly had it been independent in 2008, probably worse than Ireland as Scotland was even more over-banked than was Ireland in 2007. Bigger economies can sustain deficits and have internationally-traded currencies have virtually unlimited chequebooks in a crisis. Sterling is an internationally-traded currency. Small countries don’t have this advantage. And the UK is not a small country by any measure. We (together) have the 6th (or so…) largest economy on earth, the world’s third most powerful military with global reach, aircraft carriers (and planes too in three years’ time…) and nuclear weapons. That is a lot of insurance against unknown future threats. Small countries aren’t richer or poorer than large ones, but they are more volatile and less able to defend themselves against the likes of Putin or assert influence in the great councils of the world. Scots benefit from the UK’s heft.

Do you really think anyone in Brussels will care what Scotland, a nation of 5 million people, thinks? Denmark and Ireland have little influence, and the Experience of Ireland shows just how far from decision making the needs of peripheral economies are to the EU project. Scotland’s economy will not be aligned to the core, as Denmark’s is. It will be aligned to the UK, as Ireland’s is. And Scotland’s concerns will not matter. The EU power-brokers DO, on the other hand care what the UK thinks, even if the UK is a “surly lodger”, to purloin Salmond’s phrase, who has eschewed the Euro, it is a major one at least equal to France.

Scots though they desire to have no influence in the EU, have been told they have no influence in the UK. That’s palpable, hairy bollocks, swinging under a kilt. Blair and Brown owe all but their 1997 majority to Scottish MPs. The last PM was a Scot. And the current one has Scottish Family. And Blair was educated in Scotland too. It’s about “running your own affairs” you say? But you want to participate fully (uncritically, with little influence) in the EU. Is that not hypocrisy? And in any case, you have significant, and soon to be total, devolution of health, education, some taxation and social policy. Scots are over-represented in Westminster. Scots ALREADY run their own affairs. And I hear a lot of Scottish burrs at the top of politics, business, media out of all proportion to the population. It was a Scottish king who took the English crown and Scots have been running Britain rather well ever since.

Who, elsewhere in the world favours Scottish independence? Kim Jong Un, and Vladimir Putin. That’s about it. For the Union, we have Barak Obama, the EU, NATO, the OECD…. (has anyone asked the Pope or the Dalai Lama?) The practical part of me thinks independence and a ‘yes’ vote would throw out all the benefits of being part of the UK, at enormous long-term cost, and for few additional benefits. The last thing the world needs is another Border, or indeed a smaller, weaker United Kingdom.

But that’s not what this referendum is about. It’s about the emotional appeal to the Scottish soul. Are you Scottish? Are you British? How much of each? There are an enormous number of us in the UK who are British and English, Scottish, Welsh or Irish (not to mention Australian, Indian, Pakistani, Jamaican, Nigerian…) too. “British” is an inclusive identity, and as a result Britain greater by far than the sum of its parts. And for many of us, a ‘Yes’ vote would feel like having a limb sliced off. Think about your family and friends down south. Think about your future in a deeply uncertain world. Think about the collective strength of the nations of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Think about how desperately sad many people who love Scotland both in Scotland and elsewhere, would feel if you vote for independence. Vote with your head, AND your heart, to stay Scottish within a great and powerful United Kingdom.

Vote No.