Category Archives: Economy

No one telling the truth on public sector reform

NIPSA has once again jumped the gun by saying that public sector reform “could cost 6,000 jobs”, a quote the media were only too happy to run with one slow weekend news day. One of the reasons for the traditional media’s decline is its willingness just to report statements without even a hint of challenge – the obvious challenge here being that there is no public sector reform!

It is true that the Head of the Civil Service has been tasked to bring forward a paper on “slimmed-down government”, reported two weeks ago (more reliable journalists talk correctly of a voluntary redundancy scheme to reduce the public sector workforce by more than double the NIPSA figure). Not reported in the summer, but something which happened, was the panel of six (three from outside Northern Ireland) to make recommendations on improving public sector performance. But none of this work has actually even come close to completion, so frankly we have no idea what the outcome will be – for jobs or anything else.

The only thing we can be sure of is that both processes will result in an outcome which is theoretically sound but politically nigh impossible. Implicit in NIPSA’s intervention was an opening bid that it would not accept job losses (a line the SDLP, utterly laughably, has also previously stated) – yet even the loss of 13000 jobs would only return us to the level of public sector employment which existed at the end of the Troubles (a period during which, for understandable reasons, the public sector became vastly inflated by any remotely reasonable peace-time standards).

Politically impossible, that is, unless someone is prepared to point to the truth. No one in politics fancying their electoral chances will do so – I tried once myself and it didn’t go so well! No, voters across the Western World have settled on a preference for low taxes and high public spending – an obvious nonsense but one which they determine can always wait another five years before anyone needs to do anything about it (while introducing lots of bogeymen – from bankers to immigrants – to fill the intervening time).

Even though I have no intention of standing for election, I’ll stick to just one reality. Health Minister Jim Wells’ suggestion that Health (and Care) costs are currently rising 6% every year is likely accurate – in fact, that is more or less the case in real terms in every comparable jurisdiction across Western Europe and North America. Here’s the thing – that means, in a decade, that Health costs will likely rise over 60%!

The Health Department’s budget is 41% of Northern Ireland Departments’ current expenditure; it includes some emergency service provision, but even without that it accounts for over a third of current expenditure, which currently comes to around £10 billion. This means, within a decade, in real terms Health and Care spending is due to rise from around £3.5 million to around £5.5 billion – taking a full £2 billion (over 30%) from all other devolved departments (and thus from all other devolved services – schools, social housing, policing, infrastructure etc.)

Assuming we don’t want to lose that 30% off public service provision in the next decade, there are two principal ways we can deal with this problem.

Firstly, we can raise revenue – for example, doubling the regional rate would mean we could retain current Justice spending with a bit left over for fire and rescue; introducing water charges and tolling roads while re-negotiating capital spending limits based on that may enable infrastructure to be built and maintained for next to nothing (user pays), cutting any losses there; re-introducing prescription charges, raising tuition fees, removing rates caps and so on would add a few more quid at the edges. All of this would, however, at best recover a few hundred million – we are still well short.

Secondly, we can reform public services…

  • a single NI Executive Treasury rather than every Department having a full finance department (with separate grant systems etc);
  • competitive tendering to deliver public services, including some currently delivered internally, driving up efficiency and driving down costs;
  • removal of at least two Executive Departments (frankly six, including Justice, would probably do – causing not just savings but also more streamlined cooperation);
  • removal of at least two Civil Service (and comparison) grades;
  • a streamlined planning system – no more meetings with three different agencies and two or three departments on every case;
  • no more local Council “mission creep” – Councils don’t need “European Officers” and Councillors don’t need to discuss Gaza;
  • full and complete integration of teacher training, and subsequently of course the schools they are teaching in.

Here’s the truth – even that gets us nothing near the £2 billion we need by this time next decade… and that’s without welfare, which is a completely separate funding stream…

(By the way, the answer to this is not to “stop foreign wars”. Defence costs NI around £55 million, barely half this year’s shortfall alone – less, in fact, then the A5 dual carriageway has cost in preparation costs without a metre if it being built! So let’s stop the irresponsible fantasies and move on to reality!)

Never waste a good crisis

I am a big fan of the Irish economic commentator David McWilliams, not least of his brilliant ability to state my views much better than I can and his essential maxim that “what is important is never complicated and what is complicated is never important”. He recently won the award for Ireland’s “‘most influential Tweeter”. If only! Ireland (North and South) would be an awful lot better if he had more real influence!

I agree with him almost entirely again here – it’s really, really worth a listen. He most particularly challenges economists for ghetto-ising their knowledge by surrounding it in impenetrable jargon, leading to a lot of impotence and anger among the public.

The article’s headline is a little misleading. Mr McWilliams doesn’t quite say that humanity is incapable of learning from mistakes (admittedly he does flippantly say we don’t learn anything; a little extreme!) – quite evidently it is capable of doing so. What is true is that people are emotional; and also implicitly that we are products of our culture – the framework for our own actions/emotions and the actions/emotions of others. Entire societies function in this way.

Trying not to be simplistic but… the United States is flavoured by the fact it was founded by people at great risk spreading west across a continent, so of course it has a gun culture and an individualistic attitude to health; Germany is flavoured by wild inflation and a mad murderous dictator, so of course it is austere and prefers consensus to “charismatic leadership” now; England does evolution not revolution, so surely you didn’t seriously believe the “Vow” for vast constitutional change within months?!

So what’s this about never wasting a good crisis? If I were advising, say, a Commission set up to advise the potential next UK Government on the NI Economy I would suggest two things are core to this before we even begin:

- Northern Ireland has its own culture within which solutions must operate (theoretical academic solutions are hopeless, we need practical solutions in tune with our emotions about who we are and what is feasible); and

- keep it simple (leave out the complex stuff, just focus on the simple issues of revenue and spending, exporting and importing, receiving and contributing).

What is really necessary is a 30-year vision for Northern Ireland. If you go long term, you actually find it easier to get buy-in. Then, focus on the simple points. These include:

- you cannot spend money you don’t have (it doesn’t matter why you don’t have it);

- when you do spend, it should be on the basis of value (there’s no point spending “on the basis of need” if it doesn’t solve that need);

- it’s easier to raise revenue than reduce spending (remember the endowment effect – people value what they have more than what they could have, so once something is done “by the State” it becomes almost impossible to suggest subsequently that it shouldn’t be);

- to deliver change you have to make choices and these will make you unpopular (unpopularity is a sign you are doing something right – but is distinct from disengagement, which isn’t);

- people will support change they feel involved in even if they disagree with it instinctively (and they will oppose change they feel detached from even if they agree with it instinctively); and

- emotions (including issues of identity and religion) matter to people – they are what makes us interesting humans rather than boring robots.

Can we agree these things for the future and thus not waste the current crisis?

Borrowing key, not Corporation Tax

This piece on a “Federal UK” requires some more thought on the fiscal issues. Frankly, I am no expert on these!

However, I am increasingly of the view that the only two taxes really in play for devolution are duties (on drinks or flights or whatever) and income tax. 

Listening to interviews with the key decision makers on this issue, the relevant point here is that corporation tax is always assumed to be remaining UK-wide (except, naturally, by Northern Ireland’s First Minister in the Assembly yesterday). There is an understandable wariness to devolve this (at least in totality), partly because it is complex (for example, you have to stop Tesco, BP or HSBC just moving its office of registration) but mainly because it would simply encourage a “race to the bottom”.

There is just about the possibility now that Corporation Tax powers could be devolved to Northern Ireland alone as part of a “scatter gun approach”. This would be an error – the fundamental lesson must be that each of the four countries should have the same powers exactly (whether they choose to use them is up to them). However, the strong probability is that Corporation Tax powers will in fact be taken off the table – possibly replaced by income tax powers.

With regard to VAT, I should emphasise that, despite the First Minister’s positivity, I never saw it as a candidate for devolution either (again, just too complex). However, I do see scope to enable any growth in VAT receipts in a particular region to be retained b the region delivering the growth – potentially that even includes City Regions, not just devolved countries.

Note that the likeliest thing is that income tax will be set at 10 percentage points below the current rate, with each country then entitled to raise the remainder as it sees fit.

For all that, the very biggest fiscal requirement for me is one which is never mentioned – borrowing powers. There are two aspects to this:

  • each devolved country should be able to retain any under-spend at the end of each financial year to put into its own pot the following year (currently, except where specifically negotiated, any money left over is returned to the Treasury; the result of this is the mad February/March spending sprees we see to get the money spent, which means it is often spent in a very short-termist and ineffective way – on programmes which don’t help or pavements which don’t need repaired);
  • each devolved country should be able to borrow money, probably from the Treasury (which would need a contingency of its own), or to bid jointly for money from a “Federal Programme Fund” (say for cross-border roads, ferry subsidies or whatever).

It is these borrowing powers, combined with a non-requirement to return under-spends, which would probably make the biggest practical difference – boringly technocratic though they sound!

Scotland should vote for compromise and Currency Union – and thus vote “no”

Well this has been fascinating. The Scottish referendum has been lost by politicians, and won by democratic dialogue in the bars, allotments and social clubs of Scotland. It has taken twists and turns which no one – certainly not I – predicted.

Today is decision time. At its best, “Yes” puts forward a highly attractive argument that Scotland should stand on its own two feet; at its worst, it forgets that “independence” is a ridiculous and alarmingly parochial concept in a globalised world dominated by corporations, not states. At its best, “No” puts forward a highly attractive argument for maintaining a historically hugely successful and influential multinational liberal state (with none more influential within it than Scots); at its worst, it has resorted to nonsensical scare tactics which demean the obvious brilliance of the Scottish nation.

As it happens, given the fairly uninspirational nature of its campaign, if I were in Scotland I would be trudging along to vote “no”. Ironically, I would be doing so as it offers the best route to an option which satisfies the aspirations of the large majority of Scots (enhanced powers without the risks), and because of a case made by the “Yes” campaign!

The case is this: for all its talk about becoming Scandinavia or making its own choices, the “Yes” campaign argues nevertheless that it wishes to share the pound sterling, share the Bank of England, and share England’s monetary policy in their entirety because their economies are so inextricably linked. This is their case for a “currency union”. Yet this is also a case for a “political union”!

It is not just an economic point. It is also a political one – for there is something mischievous about essentially suggesting you can be independent and have everything bad change but everything good remain. We have to ask why Scotland wouldn’t have its own currency to be truly “independent” or why it would not join the Eurozone like Ireland? If the answer is that it is far more like the rest of the UK than elsewhere, then why on earth leave? If the answer is that using sterling is temporary, then why not be up front about it? All of this hints at an underlying uncertainty or even deviousness about what people are really being asked to vote for.

It is also divisive. The problem with referendums is that they are “Yes/No” and thus offer no means of compromise. The best compromise – the one the vast majority of Scots could easily tolerate – is enhanced powers without the risks of “independence” in an uncertain world. You don’t get that by voting “yes”; you probably do by voting “no”. It’s all a bit messy and last-minute, but then compromise often is.

In the end, therefore, I come down on the side of those who suggest that Scotland has more in common with the rest of the UK than anywhere else and should therefore share a currency with it. The easiest way to do that is by remaining in the UK! I accept Scotland has already psychologically left the UK but I would urge Scots therefore to vote “no” – and then let 63 million people rebuild a properly federal, progressive UK together.

Fetishisation of spending the root of all our ills

This is, perhaps, the single greatest article I’ve ever read about sport, or perhaps even anything!

Nominally, the article notes that “Transfer Deadline Day” has become a huge footballing event in its own right (rivalling Cup Finals and such like), even though actually all it is is the day which determines how much money various teams have spent. Supporters watch events unfold as if merely buying a player whose wages would pay for 140 nurses is the cure of all their ills. It is ludicrous. In fact it’s a moral crime, and not a victimless crime at that.

The article nailed my discomfort at “Transfer Deadline Day” perfectly. It was a discomfort I had never previously been able to nail (and thus never previously been able to put into writing). Yet I cannot help but feel it is the same discomfort I feel at Christmas.

For, when you think about it, Christmas is an awful lot like “Transfer Deadline Day”. Ultimately the objective is for people, predominantly children, to compare notes on how much their parents have spent, not unlike supporters comparing notes on how much their clubs have spent. Crudely, it is as if by buying loads of “stuff” we can deliver stability, love and affection; the same way that buying a £50 million player is supposed to guarantee trophies. In the same way managers don’t want to let supporters down by buying no one (even if there’s no one worth buying really), parents don’t like to let children down by not spending hundreds of pounds on a raft of Christmas presents (even if the child already has every X-box, iPhone and lego set going). The very term used in the article, the “fetishisation of spending”, sums it all up. It’s morally corrupt and it is the fundamental cause of all our economic (and arguably social) ills.

Again, the article on “Transfer Deadline Day” makes the point that clubs are recklessly spending our money – the money we spend at the turnstiles, on the shirts, or on the TV subscriptions (at least I have abandoned the latter in disgust, though not yet the first two I confess); and the money we lavish on the advertisers who keep it all going (not least at Christmas). Likewise at Christmas, the billions spent are mostly wasted – a huge proportion on “stuff” children never needed and never subsequently touch – when they could be put to far better use in our health service, in our schools or in assisting job creation. But let’s be clear: we choose this madness!

It is a madness which is grossly unfair too, of course. Clubs such as Leeds have gone bust trying to keep up with Manchester United despite lacking its resources; much more seriously, thousands of families across the British Isles go bust every year buying “stuff” for Christmas trying to keep up with people who earn considerably more than they do. Yet again, those at the poorer end of the spectrum suffer most.

It would be interesting to set up a movement, as happens in one edition of Family Guy of all things, to buy just one Christmas present per person. This would have the benefit of limiting peer pressure and ensuring people could remain within their means without feeling that they are somehow letting their children down. Who knows, it may even lead us recognise that there is more to Christmas, and indeed life, than “getting stuff”!

What we do about football is where I have no ideas – but it is a somewhat lesser concern, and we could start by remembering that too!

Myths about Scottish independence

There are some unbelievable myths being peddled about “Scottish independence”. It is worth nailing a few of them – if only so that those repeating them can be placed on the list of “those too lazy to do their own research who should probably never be paid as commentators”…

1. England would always elect Conservative governments.

The Labour Party “would die” according to one Sky News commentator. Utter codswallop! In England alone (even excluding Wales), Tony Blair would have headed a Labour-led administration for each of the three elections from 1997 just as he did; just as David Cameron would be Prime Minister now. Yes, Mr Blair would have needed a coalition in 2005 (though including Wales even then he had a majority) and David Cameron would not need one now, but it would still have been the same party’s Prime Minister in Number 10. Some “death”!

In any case, Labour would merely move slightly to the right to re-align politics marginally – just as it had to after the “Longest suicide note in history” election of 1983.

2. Scots would be “foreigners”.

This is lovely and emotive and maybe strictly true, but are the Irish “foreigners”? Actually current UK citizenship law views Irish nationals as having the same rights and responsibilities as UK nationals within the UK almost without exception; and it is already the case that any EU national can use consular services of any EU member state. Thus, with the safe assumption that UK citizenship law treats Scots the same way and the fairly safe assumption that Scotland becomes an EU member state, it would be much the same. Unless the Continuing UK is idiotic enough to leave the EU, of course…

This is also not unlike arrangements between the Nordic Countries or between the Czech Republic and Slovakia or Australia and New Zealand. In each case, people from the other state are not really “foreign”, as they possess all the same rights and responsibilities.

3. Scotland would move to a Scandinavian model.

I’ll return to this, but in fact there is no evidence it would. All proponents of a “yes” vote talk of reducing taxes, not increasing them; the SNP in office has centralised power and engaged in middle-class giveaways; and an iScotland would be dominated by oil, finance and drinks sectors none of whom would allow such a dramatic change of economic and social model. If anything, the evidence is an iScotland would be more Liberal in many ways, including economically.

4. Scotland could not use the pound.

Of course Scotland could use the pound. Actually no one with any authority has said otherwise.

What it could not do is retain influence on the pound – including on interest rates, revaluations or whatever. There may also be some difficulty with joining the EU; although this could probably be solved by setting up Scotland’s own currency which happened, initially, to be pegged to the pound.

5. Independence is the only way to save the NHS in Scotland.

On the contrary, independence is the only thing which puts it in any danger.

The difficulty here is that increasing moves towards private care provision are being referred to as “privatisation” by some – an utterly misleading term as that provision is still funded from the public purse.

Thus, the retention of public funding for all aspects of the Health Service means there is and remains exactly the same amount available for Health in Scotland (actually more per person, as Scotland’s public spending per head is higher within the UK). In fact, interestingly, the SNP has chosen to take money away from the NHS for other departments. Health accounts for 22% of public spending in England but just 20% in Scotland – a differential which has opened up under the SNP administration.

With the trend already being towards comparatively lower Health spending by advocates of independence themselves, and uncertainty over future oil revenues (plus inevitable costs of setting up a new military, a new diplomatic service and so on), it is clear objectively that the strain on the NHS would come with independence, not without it.

6. Scotland would remain in the EU.

This isn’t the worst myth but it is not straightforward and we should be clear about that. To be in the EU, you have to be a member state. An independent Scotland would have opted to leave a member state, and thus to leave the EU. It may of course then apply to become a member state and I would hope everyone would see the sense in fast-tracking the process prior to the date of independence – but it may not be possible to conclude this by March 2016.

This is similar to the nonsense that the pound is “also Scotland’s currency”. No it isn’t – it is the currency of the UK governed by the UK’s Central Bank. Scotland would leave the UK and thus no longer have that Central Bank, nor therefore its currency. As noted above, it could peg its own currency to Sterling or try to negotiate a Sterling Zone similar to the Eurozone – but as of March 2016 it would, failing the latter, cease to have the UK currency as its currency for the simple reason that it would have left the UK.

It is somewhat bizarre that those in favour of “independence” are so wary of being clear about what leaving the UK means!

7. Alex Salmond is a Social Democrat.

Just because you don’t like Margaret Thatcher doesn’t make you a Social Democrat!

Which is the crux of the issue, really, isn’t it?!

Northern Ireland vastly better than 20 years ago

One correspondent joked that I should be “more definite” in my blog pieces, so here’s another one: the notion that Northern Ireland isn’t multi-fold better (and more cohesive) than it was 20 years ago is complete drivel!

In the Northern Ireland of 20 years ago, with freakish exceptions, you never saw a different coloured face and you never heard a foreign language. No one wanted to come and live here; actually, no one wanted to come and holiday here. You did see plenty of army (and other) checkpoints; you did take ages crossing the border; you did face restrictions to where you went and when. And murders were more common than road fatalities are now.

Host a major music awards ceremony, or the start of a Great Cycling Tour, or a major golf championship? The notion would have had you in hospital laughing! This is a better country.

Promote an Irish language job freely in East Antrim, or park a car with a ‘GB’ sticker in Andersonstown, stroll into a political event in the Felons Club to mention your dad was in the Army in open discussion? That would have been cause for genuine concern. This is a more cohesive country.

The Troubles. What were the Troubles? People who will soon be driving and voting actually ask that. My 11-year-old stepdaughter condemned sectarian slaughter in Iraq on the grounds that “I mean, we have Protestants and Catholics but we don’t go around doing that”. To grow up in, this is pretty much a normal country!

Find the second highest and fastest growing identity here is “Northern Irish”? You know what, this is actually a country!

I suspect those who forget the obvious, vast advances are those who were anticipating something different. The notion of “peace” had perhaps always been of a “peace” solely on our own terms. We find one which is a mushy compromise a bit disconcerting – yet it is the only one available. And it is one which has improved things so immeasurably, that sometimes we forget to try measuring.

Is it imperfect? Look around the world and tell me somewhere that isn’t.

NI Corporation Tax reduction can’t happen

I was astounded to see media reports suggesting the UK Prime Minister is about to reduce Corporation Tax in Northern Ireland. This shows a basic misunderstanding of devolution – and of politics.

The UK Government has never claimed to have the power to reduce Corporation Tax in Northern Ireland. What is being considered is the devolution of Corporation Tax to the Northern Ireland Assembly. It would be for the Northern Ireland Assembly (Executive, in practice) to reduce Corporation Tax, not the UK Government.

This is important because, of course, that couldn’t possibly currently happen. For all their talk of lower business taxes (DUP) and all-island tax harmonisation (SF), the fact is the DUP and SF have brought the Executive to the brink of collapse over immediate spending reductions (necessitated by maintaining the current broken Welfare system) and ongoing real-terms spending reductions (necessitated by the UK Government’s determination to reduce the deficit). The idea that they would double this burden by adding hundreds of millions to the “savings” already having to be made to take a punt on the long-term benefits of a Corporation Tax reduction is laughable. Reduction of Corporation Tax, even if it were devolved, would merely go into the pot with all the other issues upon which the DUP and Sinn Féin are gridlocked – from the single education authority to the Maze.

A Corporation Tax reduction can’t and won’t happen any time soon. Don’t trust anyone telling you otherwise.

A “United Ireland” won’t happen. Ever.

I am pleased to see, over on Slugger, at least the hint of a real debate about a “United Ireland”. Most of the basic sentiments – that we need some economic reality and that Northern Ireland has to work for all its citizens – are spot on and conveniently are necessary to any constitutional preference. This is why my own politics were always based on those sentiments.

I have put forward various thoughts on how a United Ireland could operate – most obviously, like Australia (a federation with the current Monarch as Head of State). However, I have done so primarily to demonstrate that “Nationalists” are either so biased that they find this unacceptable, or so disinterested that they find this irrelevant. It is no surprise to me that the only threat to the UK comes from Scotland, not Northern Ireland.

The truth is this: a Unitied Ireland is not going to happen.

Why not? Let us go back to the Covenant. One of the main aspects of that document in September 1912 was the economic argument that splitting Belfast – its shipbuilders, rope makers, linen weavers and so on – from the rest of the UK would see tariffs imposed and thus create costs to exporting to the UK which would render them unable to compete with the West of Scotland and the North West of England in those key industrial areas. The point here is that in an era where there were tariffs imposed on trade between any two countries, it made sense to belong to a large country. There were two prime reasons for this: first, it gave you the biggest possible free trading zone; and second, it gave you the clout of a powerful government to negotiate trade deals with other large countries on your behalf. That is why the map of Europe at the outbreak of World War One consisted of a unitary British Isles, a larger single Germany, a huge Austro-Hungarian realm, a newly united Italy and large Russian and Ottoman Empires – alongside France. Spain and not much else (even Sweden and Norway had broken apart only in the previous decade).

A century later and we live in a vastly different Europe, where tariffs and many other trade restrictions between countries have been abolished. This makes it no longer necessary or even beneficial to belong to a large country. With the benefit of free trade, countries such as France and Germany are the exception in Europe – which contains a raft of countries at around 7-11 million (Belgium, Portugal, Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, Czech Republic. Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece, Sweden etc), another set at around 4-5 million (Ireland, Denmark, Norway, Finland. Slovakia, Croatia etc) and another lot at around 2 million (Slovenia, Latvia and Estonia). This is vastly different from what went before, but it is enabled by free and peaceful trade, and thus the pressure is for more break-up – perhaps in Catalonia, Venice or Scotland to give some obvious examples. After all, if Brussels is already handling everything from foreign trade to social regulations; and you are already handling domestic policies and laws, what role precisely do Madrid, Rome or London play?

Therefore it is no coincidence that, aside from Germany, there really is no precedent for uniting a country in modern Europe – the movement is all the other way.

Germany itself is not a useful precedent either. It consisted, legally and practically, of the dissolution of the German Democratic Republic (what the English-speaking world but not the German-speaking world referred to as “East Germany”) and the expansion of the Federal Republic of Germany (“West Germany”) to incorporate its territory. The equivalent would be the dissolution of Northern Ireland and the expansion of the current Republic of Ireland to include 32 counties not 26. Overnight, the Northern (NHS-style) Health system would be abolished, its laws would be replaced (e.g. the Rules of the Road would change) or repealed (e.g. laws on equality or animal cruelty, which are often markedly lacking in the Republic), and rafts of people would be out of work (most civil servants would be unnecessary; all lawyers now unqualified; and so on). This would be much more dramatic in fact than it was in Germany, where some “Eastern” systems were maintained by the new States (in their own policies and laws; unlike Ireland, Germany is a federation) and “Easterners” gladly underwent training in new “Western” systems accepting from the outset that they were inherently better. This is why no one seriously advocates such a method of unification for Ireland.

So there is no precedent. In fact, most Nationalists who think about it come to suggest that Northern Ireland would continue to exist, with its own separate laws, education system, accounting methods and so on. But that takes us back to the above question – if Belfast continues to manage the domestic policies and laws, and Brussels does the foreign stuff, what exactly would Dublin be doing? The answer to that, hypothetically, is it would be working out what to do with its new security headache and how it was to manage a mammoth subvention to Northern Ireland – a subvention to a place with half the population but the same number of public servants, for some reason. Hypothetically… it wouldn’t be daft enough to do it in reality, of course.

Even without that headache, the simple fact is the “United Ireland” thus created would consist of a legally separate unit, with its own laws, institutions, heritage and identities. That has been tried, of course – in 1707, when the Kingdom of Scotland was united with the Kingdom of England. How’s that one working out in the modern context explained above?!

So no, a United Ireland is not “closer than it’s ever been”. There was one chance of it ever happening outside the UK, and it was wasted at Easter 1916. Towards 2016, all the trends across Europe tell us there was more chance of a sovereign Northern Ireland than a sovereign United Ireland some time this century. What was that about making Northern Ireland economically viable and a fair home to all, Irish, British and neither…?!

Being “against austerity” is nonsense

I was linked in to a graph at the weekend showing another version of a point I have made for a long time on this blog. The graph noted that UK GDP is 16% lower than it would have been if 1990-2008 growth rates had been maintained during the 2008-13 period.

It reminded me of a phrase I see frequently – people claiming to be “against austerity”. This is nonsense to start with – all successful countries are austere; one man’s austerity is another man’s efficiency, after all. It is particularly ludicrous for those on the “left” to oppose austerity – the opposite of austerity is rampant consumerism inevitably dominated by a few big multi-nationals. Austerity is a good thing – indeed, it is absolutely necessary if we aspire to live in a country where people prioritise the interests of society as a whole and not just the crazed individualism which has seen the English-speaking world become ever more selfish, ever more unequal and ever more bust. You’d think those on the “left” would care about this, but apparently we should not seek to be austere and should just continue spending stacks of money we don’t have and never earned on things no one needs and few really want…

As it happens, austerity is also necessary when it turns out you are 16% worse off than you thought – for that is what the above figure really means. It is not our current economic position which is false; the false one was the 2008 one fuelled (particularly in the British Isles) by a mad property binge which was obviously unsustainable at the time only no one thought to admit it.

So you can’t be “against austerity” any more than you can be against the grass being green. It is time we stopped this completely false argument otherwise.

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