Beyond the point of repair

The second guest blogger on Arc of Prosperity is Phyllis Buchanan.

Phyl is a mum of 5, busy running her language company, taking photos and trying to keep up with the pace of life. She blogs at Phyl’s Blog.

An earlier version of this post has been published on her blog before.

Divorce Cakes a_006
Divorce Cakes a_006, a photo by DrJohnBullas on Flickr.
I’ve been wondering why the Scottish independence referendum has been annoying me increasingly over the last few months to the point that when I hear it mentioned on the news or similar, I turn off.

It isn’t the I am not interested. I am passionately interested. It is plain to see that England, first under Labour and now under the ConDems, has no idea whatsoever what to do to start moving in the right direction. Their education system has been priced out of realistic people’s grasp, and not in line with the rest of the European continent that it is part of. Their health service is failing miserably. The infrastructure is collapsing around them, they have youth unemployment but are trying to force pensioners into working till way beyond the age when people (in my family at least) tend to die. They are hysterical about immigration, even when fears are not realized.

Childcare is so beyond people’s reach that many women (even with degree-level education and beyond) are no longer able to go out to work — salaries just don’t meet the costs. Some stay home and decimate their careers, others choose to have no children, many rely on aging parents who suddenly find themselves incapacitated and then they’re faced with losing their home because their mortgage was based on granny childminding. Many, like me, try to work half-time (plus a little) from home, staying up till the wee small hours to make ends meet, working all weekends and holidays but that isn’t the way forward in the 21st century.

Sure enough London seems to be working reasonably well, a little part of the South East too but Birmingham up is quite frankly in a state! I want my kids to live in a fairer, more progressive country so it is incomprehensible to me after reading the figures (as quoted in the FT and even occasionally the Economist), reading independent GDP projections and reports on other small countries that are working much better, reading the White Paper and its far-reaching ideas that anyone would vote to sink with the ship that is floundering on the Somerset plains.

Now this is nothing anti-English — many of my English friends who live here are also Yes supporters, quite frankly I think Northern England needs it as much as we do, they simply aren’t being given the option and I am not willing to join them in a suicide pact when I can start to build a future they can hopefully draw example from.

Anyway, back to why the Indy Ref is annoying me. It suddenly hit me, while listening to Osborne’s speech in Edinburgh ten days ago… It is because of my divorce. I didn’t just go through a divorce eight years ago, I went through the most acrimonious divorce that any one I know has gone through. That is not what I intended but it is what transpired. I don’t usually blog about my real, innermost private life but let’s discard that rule just for once and let me take you through my divorce blow by blow. There is enough distance between me and it now for this to be possible without it being overly upsetting…

So let’s go back to five or six years before I left my first husband. We had grown apart. We were coexisting but didn’t have much in common. I saw my future differently from where he saw it but I wasn’t the divorcing type so I sat him down and told him we had to start having more time for each other, sharing parenting more and moving in the same direction. I said I wanted a little more respect and a bit more affection. He barked at me that by living in my “shitty country” he was showing me enough affection so I’d to leave him in peace and not nag him again.

After that spectacular fail at repairing our relationship things carried on as before with me working full time, parenting full time and doing everything in the house while he worked long hours and de-stressed by treating himself to café trips, cinema trips and piles of rental videos of his choice. When I had finally had enough, I told him I wanted to leave and he came out with a phrase I will take with me to my grave: “I didn’t need to make an effort because you were never going to leave.” Of all the lessons from my divorce that one line has possibly shaped the way I have lived my life afterwards most. So does that attitude ring any distant bells? Anyway, for my marriage it was too late. I didn’t love him any more.

His first reaction after I announced I was leaving was to declare his undying love for me and try to show me the affection I had craved for the previous decade. I was appalled and repulsed. I didn’t want him to go anywhere near me, let alone hold my hand.

After a few weeks of “I love you”, he moved on to undermining me. I was never going to survive on my own, I was too dependent, I was too used to his salary, I was pathetic. Too wee, too poor? Any bells?

Next I was told he’d go to court and have my children taken off me because I was a hopeless parent and he was a victim of my mid-life crisis so he would obviously be favoured by a judge. The thought of him trying to take my kids terrified me. That kept me voting “No” to leaving for a another few weeks. Slowly, I started to realize that I was the only constant in their lives so it was another lie — a bluff.

Then he tried bribery. He’d never bought me any jewellery and had always spent most of his money on things for himself so he told me that if I promised to stay I could have a diamond ring and a brand new seven-seater car. I guess this was his version of further devolved powers. Firstly, I wasn’t as shallow as that, but moreover, I was slowly beginning to realize that I’d rather have neither than stay with him.

When that blackmail tactic didn’t work he tried threatening to leave his job, so I would get no maintenance, this was followed by threats that I would have destroyed his career by leaving and he’d be destitute and it’d all be my doing. Of course later this all culminated in threats of self harm. I worried for another few weeks until again it started to dawn … all bluster and bullying. Yes, they worked for a little while but eventually I realized they were all time-buying bluffs.

He became quite verbally abusive for some time after that but that didn’t wear me down, it strengthened my resolve greatly. Finally I got the threat that he would not give up the house. He wouldn’t sell me his half so I’d lose my home. I guess this is the parallel of the current currency issue.

But the problem was that by that point starting again from scratch with less money, somewhere else, was still preferable to giving in to his bully tactics because we had gone way beyond the point of repair and more importantly I had started to believe in myself and see my route out. I’d seen what my future could hold and contemplated that other world.

Of course, he promised me the earth if I stayed but I knew realistically that once I opted to stay he wouldn’t change, he’d be no more loving or supportive than before and worse still he’d spend the rest of my life casting the almost-divorce up to me, taking more and more to compensate himself for the hurt he perceived. Life after a No vote to divorce would have been an utter nightmare.

So on balance, I think the reason I’m turning off to the Indy Ref is because it is way too close to the bone. The parallels are so strong, I am finding them upsetting. I’ve been through lies and bullying once and that is enough for one life time. Watching interview after interview on the BBC where Westminster politicians are allowed to lie or embellish the truth without being picked up by the interviewer just gets me down. I have read enough foreign and independent sources to notice the bullying lies and half truths. The fact that someone less well informed will be sitting there falling for their sound bites frustrates and scares me immeasurably.

I am starting to suspect that this divorce is becoming more acrimonious by the day and even if we do return a No, I sense we will have gone beyond the point of repair.

The Eurovision Song Contest, Kosovo and Scotland

Eurovision Song Contest 2011
Eurovision Song Contest 2011, a photo by ianxn on Flickr.
Today’s scare story (do they coordinate them to ensure there’s at least one every day, I wonder?) comes from the Daily Mail:

But now Alex Salmond faces perhaps the biggest threat his dream of Scottish statehood.

For the country’s first minister has now been warned that, if it opts for secession, Scotland might not be allowed to enter the Eurovision Song Contest.


The annual song contest is run by the European Broadcasting Union, and a spokesman said it would require the Scottish broadcaster to re-apply for entry once it leaves the Royaume Uni, as our country is known at Eurovision.

Application involves a complicated list of criteria they would have to meet – and Scotland would not be guaranteed admittance.

Kosovo is not able to enter the song contest, in part because of the opposition of Serbia, the country it seceded from six years ago.

Let’s have a look at Kosovo and Eurovision. Fortunately, The Eurovision Times has written an FAQ on this topic:

After Kosovo’s independence in 2008, the national broadcaster Radio Televizioni i Kosovës (RTK) applied for membership in the EBU (European Broadcasting Union). Membership of the national broadcaster in the EBU is the prerequesite for a Eurovision participation. However, in order to become a member of the EBU, the broadcaster first needs to be a member of the International Telecomunications Union (ITU). And there we have the problem: In order to become a member of the ITU, the country needs to be a member of the United Nations. As Kosovo is still not recognised as an independent country by many countries, for instance Russia, Serbia and Spain, it is not a member of the UN.

It sounds extremely unlikely that Scotland wouldn’t be accepted as a new member by the UN, given that independence will have been won through a democratic process agreed with the UK.

Kosovo’s problems seem to have been caused by the fact that new member applications can be blocked by the permanent members of the UN Security Council (the US, the UK, France, Russia and China), and Russia have decided to block Kosovo’s application (because they’re friendly with Serbia).

It’s thus actually irrelevant whether Spain would be happy with Scottish independence or not (and they have said repeatedly they don’t have a problem with it so long as independence has been achieved through constitutional means). It also seems very unlikely any of the permanent members of the UNSC would want to cause any problems.

In short, it’s practically certain that Scotland will quickly become a member first of the UN, then of the ITU and finally of the EBU, after which Scotland will be free to participate in the Eurovision Song Contest.

Dividing up the Bank of England like a CD collection

The Bank of England is avilable to rent...
The Bank of England is avilable to rent…, a photo by aminorjourney on Flickr.
During his brief visit to Edinburgh, George Osborne said that the pound is not a CD collection that can be divided up.

It was a bit misleading to talk about the pound when what he really meant was the Bank of England — what people commonly refer to as the pound is just the name of the currency it issues.

But why exactly can’t we divide up the Bank of England like a CD collection?

Let’s have a wee look at the BoE’s Annual Report from 2013 (PDF). On page 99 it states that the total assets are worth £58,022m (58 billion pounds), and the bank has put exactly the same amount into circulation as banknotes. This means that Scotland’s 8.3% population share last year was worth £4816m.

Now, obviously we can’t magically turn £4816m worth of banknotes into Scottish ones, so I guess what would happen is that the BoE would withdraw this amount of money from circulation and transfer the corresponding assets to a brand new Central Bank of Scotland, which would then be able to issue a corresponding amount of Pound Scots.

The amounts mentioned above don’t include the UK’s currency reserves (PDF), which belong to the Treasury (although they’re administered by the BoE). In August 2013 the gross currency reserves (including gold and all that) were worth $103,418m, and the net reserves had a value of $44,862m. I’m not an economist, but I presume it’s the latter that are of interest to us here. Scotland would in other words be due currency reserves (including gold) worth $3724m (or roughly £2232m).

Of course, it would hardly be great news for the stability of the Pound Sterling to lose such a great parts of the assets underpinning it from one day to the next, which is why it’s very likely the rUK politicians will start begging Scotland to accept a formal currency union soon after a Yes vote.

If the rUK politicians veto both a currency union and an asset transfer of Scotland’s share of the Bank of England’s assets and the currency reserves, then Scotland will definitely be entitled to refuse to accept any liabilities (in other words, Scotland will start out life as an independent country without a national debt).

Barroso does an Osborne

EC President José Manuel Barroso taking the floor
EC President José Manuel Barroso taking the floor, a photo by European Parliament on Flickr.
In my recent post about Osborne’s bullying session in Edinburgh, I wrote:

By ignoring [the alternatives to a currency union] and by failing to explain why rUK politicians would opt for a solution that might harm rUK businesses, he shows that his sole purpose is scaremongering. He didn’t make this speech to provide visibility for rUK businesses (which would have been prudent), but to bully Scottish voters into voting No.

This morning the President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, opted for a very similar approach when he was interviewed on the Andrew Marr Show:

Of course it will be extremely difficult to get the approval of all the other member states to have a new member coming from one member state… I believe it’s going to be extremely difficult, if not impossible, a new member state coming out of one of our countries getting the agreement of the others.

As many EU experts have discussed at length in the past, there is no precedent for this type of situation, and there are many options available to the EU in order to reach a pragmatic compromise that everybody can live with — see for instance Yves Gounin’s article, either my summary or the full translation.

Indeed, as Yves Gounin writes, the EU has a lot to lose too:

As soon as the Rubicon of independence has been crossed Europe would have everything to lose by putting these states into quarantine: its entrepreneurs could no longer invest there; its young people could no longer study there; its workers could no longer travel freely there; its fishing fleet could no longer fish in their waters, etc…

Barroso is a spokesman for the governments of the EU member states. He’s not elected to represent the European Parliament nor the EU Court of Justice. It’s therefore hardly a big surprise that he finds it hard to resist when he gets asked by David Cameron or Mariano Rajoy to lend them a wee hand, especially given that his stint as Commission President comes to an end in early summer, so dealing with a Scottish Yes vote will be somebody else’s problem anyway.

It’s therefore very clear that Barroso has done an Osborne, trying to bully the Scottish (and Catalan) voters to reject independence rather than expressing an informed opinion about what actually will happen after a Yes vote.

Actually excluding Scotland from the EU would not just go completely against the Union’s founding principles, it would also deeply harm the EU and its citizens, as well as quite possibly being illegal according to EU law. In the past, the EU has always found a pragmatic solution when needed rather than adopting a legalistic approach.

Osborne and Barroso both want us to believe that they’ll cut off their noses to spite their faces after a Yes vote. In reality, they’re just trying to bully us into voting No.

Forget asylum seekers — what about the expats?

This is the first ever guest blog on Arc of Prosperity, written by Ed “The Guero”.

Ed is a thirty-something professional from Hamilton who has been travelling for the better part of 15 years in pursuit of work, love and life — though not necessarily in that order! He is a proponent of assisted healthy living for children and improved social welfare. He tweets as @EdTheGuero.

Border Sign
Border Sign, a photo by Dunnock_D on Flickr.
Case studies, case studies, case studies. As an expat it pays to pay attention to case studies especially when preparing to return home accompanied by your foreign-born spouse and/or children. I say “foreign-born” in reference to those not of the EEA (European Economic Area) or the EU. One has to be mindful of the rules ensuring we dot all of the i’s, cross all of the t’s and, after what we assume should be a relatively straight forward process, we can expect our spouse to be granted a visa and welcomed to the UK as a well received extension of ourselves. After all — this is what we should expect from ‘Team GB’ right?

Not so fast!

This piece is not an attempt to vilify Westminster nor is it an effort to sway a vote in the referendum, but my own situation grants me insight into what we might do better should Scotland be free from the overriding control of a Westminster, so out of touch that it leaves many of its citizens yearning to simply come home with the person they love.

Much has been said lately in the mainstream media and social networks regarding UK immigration policy. In recent years policies have been pushed, pulled and contorted in an effort to protect the UK from an influx of “benefit tourists” and relationships of convenience whilst at the same time providing an avenue for asylum seekers in their pursuit of security. The UK, in the latest policy change, seems to have adopted a rather elitist approach and in Westminster’s efforts to “protect” they have cast a net so fine that British expats find themselves wrongfully affected, unable to feasibly come home with their family in tow.

Evidently, we are of secondary importance, an issue being missed in the haste to close Britain’s doors to immigrants. Statistics, explanatory documents filled with tables, appendices, diagrams and equations can all be readily found should you feel the need, but as a Scottish expat married to a beautiful lady from some unspecified Latin American country, I can tell you that it comes down to nothing other than money.

There are minimum requirements to be met regarding finances and accommodation as you would expect. What irks me are the countless stipulations and the unrealistically high-set bar which take no account of economic relativity and engineers a scenario in which families are separated indefinitely. In the most common type of family member application, £18,600 is the magic number. As my wife’s sponsor I must earn in the months prior to and after my wife’s application £18,600 gross annual salary or have savings which supplement my income, have worked for my employer abroad for 6 months minimum and have a contract on the table back home. If I have savings – subtract £16,000, divide by 2.5 and that gives you the number I can add to my gross annual income to meet the minimum requirement. Who has enough savings to subtract £16,000 then… Never mind.

Basically you need a lot of money and now is a good time to point out the cost of application — a whopping £851. When you struggle to meet a minimum requirement of £18,600 and face set-up costs back home, who has £851 (non-refundable on refusal)? You had best be certain your case is clad in iron.

There are two approaches here — have your spouse apply whilst you are both overseas or whilst separated with you in the UK. I know it may be an arbitrary number to some but I earn a good salary and live comfortably abroad — I still earn less than £18,600 per year! My wife earns similarly to myself, but that is not considered a factor in her application, and that leaves us with only one option.

If I want to come home I need to find a job in the UK and then have my wife apply for her visa from overseas when conditions are right. There is a golden ticket which we do not have, £62,500 in savings (subtract the £16,000, divide by 2.5 = £18,600) so it falls to me to accept that we may be apart a minimum of 6 months, realistically up to a year for some.

Are we to believe that this approach is suitable for a country with such disparity, where in London I can expect to earn X% more than in Glasgow or Y% more than in Inverness? Worth noting is of the 422 occupations listed in the 2011 UK Earnings Index, only 301 were above the £18,600 threshold. That’s a lot of discrimination and one should consider the fact that Scotland traditionally has a lower average income than the South-East of England. According to the 2012 salary survey by the Guardian, care workers, hairdressers, bar staff, pharmacists, chefs, travel agents, florists, beauticians, cooks, fitness instructors, butchers, bakers and candlestick makers all earn less than the £18,600 minimum and that’s before filtering by region.

The obvious conclusion is this: The further South & East you live, the more savings you have and the higher profile your profession, the easier it is for your spouse to obtain a visa.

Accommodation is a similar story, unfortunately. You are expected to either a) have a place set up and ready to accommodate your family or b) have someone provide you with accommodation. I don’t know about anyone else but I am short on friends with a spare room, a letting agreement which allows them to sub-let, or an owned property with enough space so as not to constitute overcrowding.

So that’s the crux of the thing. A British citizen’s difficulty in obtaining a family visa from within the UK or without is long and arduous but the fun doesn’t end there. We have the added anxiety in knowing we must do it again 2.5 years down the line because the road to a permanent visa is a 5 year process. Who can plan so far ahead as to know their circumstances will match those at time of original approval and what of a failed application? Is it acceptable that if already in the country many families find themselves separated due to the UK’s insistence upon a refused applicant applying from outwith the UK? How does my partner support herself back home in such circumstances? What if she is the sole provider? It goes without saying that money spent on sending my wife to her country of origin only compounds the issue by pushing us farther from the minimum requirements. Then there is the frankly ridiculous “Life in the UK” test which, if the mock test is anything to go by, is as relevant to living in the UK as a Tunnock’s tea-cake in France.

The UK immigration system is convoluted, irrelevant, discriminatory and not fit for purpose. The system in place seems to be upside down — devised to inconvenience those “undesirables” who may not qualify to settle in the UK before serving those with a right to.

There is currently a legal challenge in progress concerning the minimum income threshold which has resulted on all applications that do not immediately meet the criteria to be put on hold indefinitely pending the outcome of legalities. Right now there are hundreds, possibly thousands, of families separated by British immigration policies and the best response on offer is: “I am prepared to consider whether we can put in place some rules that are not vulnerable to abuse” (Mark Harper, until recently Minister for Immigration). I propose that the level of abuse and method of controlling it should not take precedent over the rights of British Citizens and their families!

In my opinion there can be no abuse of such significance that keeping families apart for indefinite periods of time is justifiable collateral. Isn’t it our right to return home, to bring with us our loved ones? I cannot accept that the abuse of a few should weigh so heavily against the rights of the many and it seems straight forward to me than even if I come home, my partner and I face an uncertain 5 years where we cannot feasibly plan for a settled life.

So what then?

Scots are travellers by nature and we ought to be allowed to return home, our families treated to the same rights and privileges as ourselves, not assessed on the basis of net burden! Perhaps an independent Scotland can see a future in which common sense and versatility are the tools used to sculpt a system whose primary objective is to protect the rights of its own whilst, secondarily, providing for the well-being of those who wish to join us. Perhaps through inclusion we may deter the “abuse” Westminster fears so diligently.

To restrict the movements of a spouse is to restrict the movements of a British citizen. The result of such a hard handed approach to international couples is simply that many expats who wish to return home are forced to consider alternative destinations. We have for instance considered returning instead to the Republic of Ireland where we would be free of the stress the UK immigration system causes.

If we want this country to be a progressive, modern and caring place to live, surely it would serve to pay attention to the welcome mat we present at the door, especially when it is a member of our family who comes calling.

What George Osborne didn’t talk about

Chancellor visits Ealing Studios
Chancellor visits Ealing Studios, a photo by HM Treasury on Flickr.
I had expected George Osborne’s speech today to rule out a currency union and then discuss why a free-floating Scottish currency wouldn’t work either (I think it would, but that’s obviously not something he’d admit).

Curiously, however, both his speech and the paper the Treasury released at the same time (PDF) practically ignore an independent Scotland’s alternatives to a currency union, and instead focus on comparing a currency union with the status quo (see for instance the graphs on page 34 in the Treasury’s paper).

The Chancellor also looked rather uncomfortable when the BBC asked him how much rUK businesses would pay extra because of his refusal to contemplate a currency union:

It seems George Osborne was thinking that if he ruled out a currency union, voters would naturally vote No to independence. I’m not sure it has occurred to him that we might vote Yes in spite of his speech (or even because of it).

As I pointed out yesterday, a currency union is likely to benefit the rUK more than Scotland, so it’s still very likely Westminster will climb down after a Yes vote and agree to a currency union after all.

However, even without a currency union, it’s by far most likely that an independent Scotland will be using the pound. We might either simply use the rUK pound without an agreement, or we might issue Scottish pounds that are linked in a so-called currency board to the rUK pound. I believe the latter option is much more likely (see yesterday’s blog post for more details), and the average voter really won’t care so long as the pound in their pocket is worth the same as before.

In fact, most Scots will probably prefer having a Scottish pound linked to the rUK pound, because it means we’ll have Scottish banknotes and coins, and we’re used to this type of arrangement already. In reality, it would just mean that Scottish notes would be issued by the National Bank of Scotland rather than three commercial banks, which surely wouldn’t be a bad thing.

By ignoring these options and by failing to explain why rUK politicians would opt for a solution that might harm rUK businesses, he shows that his sole purpose is scaremongering. He didn’t make this speech to provide visibility for rUK businesses (which would have been prudent), but to bully Scottish voters into voting No.

To share or not to share a currency

woc813 Great British enamelled coin cufflinks
woc813 Great British enamelled coin cufflinks, a photo by wowcoin on Flickr.
Everybody is expecting the Unionist parties to state tomorrow that they will never accept a currency union with an independent Scotland.

They’re shooting themselves in the foot if they do, because there’s good reason to believe that a formal currency union will benefit the rUK more than Scotland because it’s good for currencies to be anchored in natural resources (such as oil) and exports (such as whisky) rather than being dependent mainly on volatile financial services.

However, if they really want to cut off their nose to spite their face, there’s nothing an independent Scotland can do to save them from themselves, and it’s probably prudent to come up with a plan B.

Economists seem to talk mainly about three options: (1) A formal currency union (pound or euro); (2) using another currency without a currency union; and (3) creating a separate currency.

Nobody wants to introduce the euro just now (and even if we wanted to, one of the necessary preconditions is to have a separate currency that can be linked loosely to the euro), and if Westminster vetoes a sterling currency union, that means (1) is out of the picture.

Using the pound informally would be possible, but it’s an option that is normally used by rather small countries, and I can’t see it being a sensible long-term option for Scotland (although it might be a good idea for a transitional period), so that rules out (2), too.

Creating a separate Scottish currency sounds scary to many voters, but it actually isn’t. What’s important to understand here is that currencies can be either free-floating or linked to another currency, and those two options are as different as night and day.

A free-floating Scottish currency would indeed be a bit scary, especially at first until Scotland has had time to build up a relationship with the financial markets.

On the other hand, a Scottish currency linked to the pound sterling isn’t scary at all. In fact, that’s exactly what’s already happening at the moment when the Bank of Scotland, the Royal Bank of Scotland and Clydesdale Bank issue their own banknotes. They basically have to store one pound from the Bank of England every time they issue one pound, and that’s exactly how a currency board (which is the technical name for a linked currency) would work.

To put it simply, the National Bank of Scotland will put one pound sterling into its vaults (or more likely, into an electronic account) for each Scottish pound it issues. In that way, a Scottish pound is exactly as safe as an rUK pound because the National Bank of Scotland has the means to replace the one with the other if needed.

A currency board would bring many advantages. The person on the street would think of the Scottish pound as a normal pound, just looking different (exactly like today, except that it’d involve coins as well as notes). However, if the rUK economy collapsed at some point, or if the euro suddenly started to look attractive again, it would be easy to break the link and do something else, either floating the currency freely or replacing it with a link to the euro.

Most people will not really care whether we’re in a formal currency union or using a Scottish pound linked 1-to-1 to the rUK pound, so if Westminster tomorrow rules out a currency union, it’s obvious what the Yes campaign’s plan B will be.