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This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Rare sense

I decided to make a list of the background reading for the 24 or so posts I’ve done in the past year about the Scottish referendum. Twelve titles soon appeared on my list – which I wanted then to check (via the internet) against a more comprehensive bibliography. Imagine my surprise to identify only one - a list of 60 academic books only two of which have a direct bearing on the referendum!!
But my surfing was not in vain – it did unearth four important E-books only one of which I had so far been aware – that is 250 pages of Enlightening the Constitutional Debate

Also released only in the last month is a 90 page assessment of the key issues by various of academics and published by 3 Foundations - Scotland’s Decision – 16 questions to think about

For the real masochist there are 132 pages on The economic consequences of Scottish independence from Hamburg University which
“brings together a number of papers from distinguished academic economists that consider: taxation and government spending, pensions, banking, debt and interest rates, trade borders and currency issues, business perspectives, energy policy, inequality, migration and labour markets”
I suspect that most of us would probably find a title such as The Wee Blue Book more enticing - particularly when it has only 37 pages (including graphs)

I will whack through them to try to identify the highlights. Needless to say they have attracted very little attention in the blogosphere where, however, I did notice this thoughtful post 
Much of what is being touted as consequences of independence – reversing the UK’s austerity programme, removing nuclear weapons, re-nationalising strategic industries, taxing the rich, and other things numerous and varied – are no more than aspirations.There are no guarantees that any of this will actually happen in an independent Scotland, but there is widespread belief among Yes campaigners that these things will be more likely in an independent Scotland because a Scottish government will be more responsive to the collective will of the Scottish people than the UK government in Westminster.
 ……….Central governments, formed by tiny elites, will continue to exercise almost absolute power over us. And these governments will continue to be put in place by small minorities of the electorate by way of a flimsy approximation of democratic process.
Our democratic systems are not the only ones that are malfunctioning. The banking crisis of 2007/08 and subsequent recession have exposed systemic flaws in the financial mechanisms on which we rely to keep our economy working.During the independence campaign there has been a great deal of heat generated by the arguments over who’s going to be wealthier or poorer after independence, and what currency Scotland will be able to use. Lots of heat casting not a glimmer of light on the dark heart of our debt-raddled economy.
Nowhere in the mainstream campaign has anyone from Yes or No acknowledged that our financial and fiscal systems are fatally flawed. No plans have been proposed to tackle the creation and destruction of money as interest paying debt, a system that cannot be sustained for much longer before it buries us all under a mountain of credit that’s impossible to service. None of the good things that enthusiasts for independence want to happen are likely to happen or be sustained until we make structural reforms to our dysfunctional systems of democracy and finance. The same goes for the “strength in unity” arguments of those who seek to preserve the union by voting No.
Separate or united, we are weak and vulnerable because the frameworks within which our society operates make us so, and nothing that’s being proposed by either side of the independence debate will change this. 
The possibility of reforming the structures of democracy does indeed seem more likely in a small country with a less entrenched sense of class and hierarchy than dreary old England, the dominant partner within the UK. There is much pre-independence talk about a Scottish constitution and reform of our ridiculously over-sized “local” government areas. It will be much harder for an elite in Holyrood to withstand a popular movement for democratic reform than it is for its counterpart in Westminster.
For structural reform of how we do politics, the balance lies firmly in favour of independence.But what about money and taxation? Imagine, in post-independence Scotland, an awakening to the lunacy of creating and destroying money as debt which prompts the development of the the most elegant and effective financial system that the world has ever seen. Even supposing we could pull off this trick in the shadow of the mighty economy across the border, when sterling collapses under the burden of its own debt (as it surely will) Scotland’s biggest trading partner will descend into chaos, taking Scotland’s economy down with it. 
Could we reform Scotland’s financial and fiscal systems first and then export the example to the remainder of the UK before the whole thing implodes? Possible, but unlikely. The sterling economy is of an order of magnitude bigger than that of Scotland’s, and the two are so intimately entwined that any radical changes in the way that money works north of the border would be undermined by those with vested interest in maintaining the sterling status quo, which works very well indeed for those who control it. 
Effective reform of our financial and fiscal systems is the key to transforming our society for the better, and these reforms are more likely to endure if they’re applied to sterling, which means doing the work of reform from within the UK.
It is, however, a fine balance of argument in favour of voting No. A balance that’s tipped more by gut feeling than intellectual certainty. 
But then we have the problem of distraction.If we vote Yes it will signal the start of a process of disentangling institutions of state from the UK and establishing new ones in Scotland. This will be messy, tedious and protracted. Even if the civil servants can remain civil the politicians will not. A triumphant Scottish government will be out to flex its independent muscles while a wounded Westminster, with the Daily Mail baying at its heels, will be in no mood to make things easy for the departing Scots. The division of assets and liabilities will descend into the mother of all arguments that will take a long time to resolve. 
I am deeply skeptical of the 18 month transition period between the referendum and independence day that’s being advertised by the official Yes campaign. Witness the Scottish Parliament building which took seven years and more than ten times the original budget to complete. That was a tiny, straightforward project compared to negotiating separation from the UK and setting up the machinery required to run an entire nation. The prospects for a swift and efficient winding up of Scotland’s affairs within the UK do not look good. 
I fear that much of the positive energy that’s been generated by the independence debate will dissolve into habitual cynicism and apathy as the house-keeping tasks drag on, year after year, soaking up time, money, and the will to live. Much as I am attracted to the idea of breaking the establishment mould and creating new systems in an independent Scotland
I have to conclude that the best chance of getting all the good things that my independence-minded friends are aiming for is to campaign for structural reform from within the UK, starting with money and taxation. This will no doubt baffle those who are convinced that independence offers the only hope of change, but the more I think about it the more sense it makes.
Our problems are structural, not geographic. It seems to me that the best way to change the status quo is to get down to the hard work of changing it. Moving it north in the hope that the job will be easier feels like a diversion. The truth is that I don’t much care where the various bits of our government sit. I care about how they work and what they’re able to do to make our lives secure, comfortable, and sustainable.
And I know that in order for government to work properly we need financial and fiscal systems that are designed to help us, not hinder us. The political establishment of the UK is crumbling. Membership of political parties has shrunk to a fraction of what they were when I was a boy, and the power of the mainstream media is being eroded at a tremendous rate by the internet. Disaffection with the way the UK does business runs wide and deep through the British Isles and I get the sense that people have an appetite for change, if only they could see something tasty to sink their teeth into. Making money work properly for everyone is a project that could bring people together. With sterling, we have an opportunity to create a financial system that’s more effective and sustainable than anything we could achieve in an independent Scotland. 
For this reason alone I’m voting No in the referendum.But that doesn’t mean that I’m certain I’m right. As the song says, “you pay your money, you take your choice.”

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