All posts by thomas

Focusing on London

233/365 Washed Up
233/365 Washed Up, a photo by thebarrowboy on Flickr.
There’s an interesting article by Larry Elliott in The Guardian today.

He neatly sums up why Margaret Thatcher was a disaster north of the Severn-Wash line but a huge success south of it:

In the 1930s, the centre of gravity of the British economy shifted to the south-east. […] Manufacturing jobs had peaked in the mid-1960s and the workforce had shrunk by a million. Britain’s industrial competitiveness had been impaired in the 1970s by high inflation, offset by a lower exchange rate. But the first two years of the Thatcher era were a veritable bloodbath. Industry faced a quadruple whammy: higher oil prices; an appreciating foreign exchange rate courtesy of sterling’s emerging status as a petro-currency; rising inflation caused by a doubling of VAT and high pay claims; and sky-high interest rates deemed necessary to reduce the growth in the money supply.

[Then there] was the big bang in the City. This accelerated the economy’s transformation away from manufacturing towards the service sector and the financial services sector in particular. The government’s thinking was that it made sense to exploit the size and international reputation of the City, because this was a sector in which the UK had a comparative advantage.

In other words, Mrs. Thatcher accelerated a process whereby economic activity was moving from north-west to south-east. A more sensible government might have tried to create more economic activity in the struggling parts of the country, but instead they decided to concentrate on the areas that were already doing well.

Larry Elliott continues:

The economy’s structure means that the growth sectors when it recovers are […] likely to be financial services, professional services and communications, digital and media. All three are concentrated in London.

So basically, because a large list of UK governments allowed the economy to shift gradually towards Greater London, this pattern has now been set in stone because all growth will by default happen there.

The future governments of an independent Scotland will certain not just give up and allow the economy to shift to London. It will do its utmost to create economic activity in Scotland.

I just feel sorry for the people of Northern England — they really could use independence from London, too!

How Thatcher destroyed the coalition of nations

Anti-Margaret Thatcher badge
Anti-Margaret Thatcher badge, a photo by dannybirchall on Flickr.

Did Margaret Thatcher create the current independence movement in Scotland?

I was intrigued by a blog post on the pro-independence blog Bella Caledonia, which quoted James Robertson’s And the Land Lay Still:

One of the unintended effects of Margaret Thatcher’s revolution […] was to destroy Scottish loyalty to the British State. If it didn’t provide you with a job, if it didn’t give you a decent pension or adequate health care or proper support when you were out of work, what was it for? It wasn’t for anything – except maybe things you didn’t want or believe in, like nuclear weapons on the Clyde, or the poll tax.

When you’re trying to govern a coalition, whether of parties or of nations, it’s important to keep them all happy.

Let’s have a brief look at Danish politics. Just after the last general election there was an interesting interview with Henning Dyremose, who was Chancellor of the Exchequer in the first of Poul Schlüter’s Conservative governments (in my own loose translation):

What the Social Democratic Prime Minister needs to do is to create a situation where the Socialists win, where the Social Liberals win, and where she can ignore the Social Democrats. The latter are so delighted that she becomes prime minister that she does not have to give her parliamentary group and the ordinary party members any kind of concessions. If she can make a deal that makes both Socialsts and Social Liberals happy, she knows the Social Democrats will also be happy. If the Socialists — who were weakened in the elections — are also weakened in the government programme negotiations, their members will begin to ask whether the price they pay for supporting a Social Democratic prime minister is too high. If the Social Liberal leader doesn’t get enough concessions, she could just as well remain outside the government. The Social Liberal Party would have more influence if they chose to remain outside the government. That’s why they’ll be expensive to include in the government.

I find it interesting to apply Dyremose’s advice to the UK. That is, one should realise that the smaller nations (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) have the ability to leave and realise their ambitions elsewhere, so England should give them more influence than strictly speaking necessary to keep them happy. Ultimately, English politicians (and to some extent English voters) will be content so long as England is leading a strong United Kingdom, even if the smaller nations sometimes get their own way. (This also applies to Spain, of course, where Catalonia is clearly not seeing the benefit of remaining within the Spanish Kingdom any more.)

It reminds me of my old suggestion to double the number of Scottish MPs in Westminster.

Anyway, I don’t think anybody in Westminster is going to pay heed to the advice above. The Scottish loyalty to the British state has been broken, and the natural way forward now is to vote Yes in 2014.

Godwin’s Law and Scotland on Sunday

Week 38: Godwin's Law
Week 38: Godwin’s Law, a photo by WilliamsProjects on Flickr.
Back in the 1990s, when Usenet was one of the most important parts of the Internet, I participated in several newsgroups that adhered to Godwin’s Law:

For example, there is a tradition in many newsgroups and other Internet discussion forums that once [a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler] is made, the thread is finished and whoever mentioned the Nazis has automatically lost whatever debate was in progress. This principle is itself frequently referred to as Godwin’s law. It is considered poor form to raise such a comparison arbitrarily with the motive of ending the thread. There is a widely recognized corollary that any such ulterior-motive invocation of Godwin’s law will be unsuccessful.

According to Godwin’s Law, Scotland on Sunday lost the independence debate by deciding to make comparisons between the SNP (an extremely tolerant party which favours civic nationalism) and the Nazis.

I believe in free speech, and while I will defend their right to publish what they want, I do think it was an appalling decision to publish this.

Of course it should be possible to discuss Scotland’s political history, including the role played by fascism, but it’s entirely clear that Scotland on Sunday tried to imply that current nationalist politicians have fascist sympathies, which is both wrong and offensive.

I thought the unionists wanted to win the referendum by debating the pros and cons of independence. Alas, I was wrong. If they want to win by making Nazi slurs, all rational debate becomes impossible, which is exactly why Godwin’s Law says that the debate ends here.

The Day After

Catalunya triomfant (18/22)
Catalunya triomfant (18/22), a photo by . SantiMB . on Flickr.
As part of the Catalan independence campaign, a group of people have been raising money to allow Isona Passola to make a film about the consequences of independence, called L’Endemà “The Day After”.

So far they’ve managed to raise €348,830 (£294,431).

I saw this mentioned in the Danish newspaper Politiken, but I haven’t yet read anything about it in English-speaking media.

Here’s what the website says about the film:

L’ENDEMÀ donarà arguments clars, sòlids, fiables i contrastats, amb dades objectivables, per boca de les figures nacionals i internacionals més tècniques i més ben informades, a través del mitjà més prestigiós dels mitjans de comunicació, el cinema. També s’editarà la web-sèrie Les píndoles contra la por amb respostes a les grans preguntes que resolen els grans temes de país, les respostes que necessitem per a decidir sense por i tranquil·lament.

My Catalan is a wee bit rusty, but I think it means something like this:

THE DAY AFTER will provide clear, solid, reliable and contrasting arguments with objective data, recounted by the most knowledgeable and best-informed national international figures, through film, the most prestigious form of communication. We will also release a web site, The Pills against Fear, with answers to the major questions to solve the great national issues, the answers that we need to decide calmly and without fear.

Yes will overtake No in five months’ time

The independence polls
Independence opinion polls with trend lines.
OpenOffice is able to compute trend lines for data in a graph.

I took the most recent Scottish independence opinion polls (since August last year), put in the trend lines and extended them until the day of the actual referendum, 18th September 2014. The results can be seen in the graph on the right.

Basically, No is falling quickly, while Yes and Don’t Know are rising at a more moderate pace.

The effect is that according to current trends, Yes will overtake No on the 1st of September 2013, and by the time of the referendum, there will be more than twice as many Yes voters as No voters.

Obviously it’s very unlikely that the current trends will continue for the next 18 months, and of course opinion never shifts in such a neat, linear fashion. However, it does show that the Yes side is building up momentum, and that it is indeed possible, perhaps even likely, that Scotland will vote yes to independence.

English holidays and the independence referendum

Lyme Regis
Lyme Regis, a photo by Matt Knott on Flickr.
The Scottish school holidays typically finish in mid-August (like in Denmark). For instance, next year in Glasgow the pupils return on Wednesday 13 August 2014.

This means that the independence referendum on Thursday 18 September will take place more than a month after most people have returned from their holidays, so there’s plenty of time to discuss the pros and cons with your family, friends and colleagues.

On the other hand, English schools go back much later, typically in early September.

This means that lots of English people will not really have come out of holiday mode before the independence referendum takes place, which should be a good thing because it would lead to slight less interference from London-based media.

The more I think about it, the better I like the choice of date for the referendum.