Archive for November, 2013

What’s occurring

Week 23 to 29 November

Wales

Hywel Francis is to stand down as an MP in the next election. It’s a job he’s held since 2011. A safe seat such as this will have them all out of the woodwork, so watch the elbows come into play as candidates try to advantage themselves in the rush to gain the nomination.

It’s a testing time in schools. Next year all our kids will have to take Maths tests to gradually push up standards. But there is a slight problem many pupils in Wales have no idea how to take a maths test according to a highly critical report produced for the Welsh Government.  They found the kids didn’t understand basic concepts or check their work, copied from each other, or left most questions blank. They also gave ridiculous answers. Well at least with the latter they can aim to be politicians later in life.

Those little green posters outside some of Wales’s café’s and other eating places will now spread to all of them. Why? Only places with good ratings ever showed the food hygiene ratings. But now it’s all to change. Wales will become the first part of the UK to force all food outlets to prominently display ratings. The new law means that over the next 18 months, restaurants, takeaways and supermarkets must display ratings from 0 (lowest) to 5 (highest). Kebab houses will have to show them, even if their customers are to inebriated to read them.

Apparently it’s not just in the Commons and the Assembly there’s gas aplenty. According to  companies keen on extracting shale gas there are “substantial” supplies in Wales. The firms were setting out their stall to the Welsh Affairs Select Committee’s inquiry into energy generation. The gas is obtained by hydraulic fracturing. This involves injecting water and other chemicals into shale rock at high pressure. The rocks are subsequently shattered, releasing trapped natural gas.  As soon as Welsh Councils give approval for exploratory drilling and many are, fracking opponents get their placards out. Looks like fun and games aplenty in the new year twhen the protestors take on the drillers and the councils.

Rest

Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) should be abolished and replaced by a new system, according to a review of policing in England and Wales by ex-Met Police Commissioner Lord Stevens for the Labour Party. Commissioners should be given the boot in 2016 and replaced by new structure based on local councillors . It says the current 43-force structure is “untenable” and forces ought to merge. There were 37 radical proposals in the report and Ed Miliband says the report will not gather dust but be implemented should Labour win the next  election.  Clearly a policeman’s lot will be a different if Miliband gets his way, who know whether it will be a happy one.

Another sign that Miliband’s more effective than Cameron let’s on is the government latest reaction to Miliband’s energy freeze. The government are begging the big six energy firms to hold prices until the middle of 2015. A date set conveniently after the next general election. Purely co-incidental, old boy.  Labour have already promised to freeze energy prices for 20 months if elected and are now promising a massive shake-up of the energy industry in order to keep the prices low thereafter. One would think they’re all trying to buy off the voters. Surely not.

Alex Salmond in Glasgow launched the Scottish Independence White paper. It sets out in fascinating detail what the Scottish government would aspire to introduce following independence.  Just a little snag,  much of what he wants  depends on striking a deal with either Cameron or Miliband depending on whose in government after the general election. If Mr Salmond successfully pursades his fellow countrymen and women to vote Yes it will be a leap of faith, ‘cos what finally emerges from the negotiations will be anybody’s guess.  See Whose Pound? 

Polls

Wednesday

YouGov/Sun          CON 32%, LAB 39%, LDEM 10%, UKIP 12%.

Tuesday

ComRes /Independent          CON 32%(+4), LAB 37%(+1), LDEM 9%(-2), UKIP 11%(-1).

Populus          CON 34%, LAB 39%, LDEM 12%, UKIP 7%.

Sunday

YouGov /S.Times         CON 33%, LAB 40%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 11%.

Scottish referendum

Panelbase./Sunday Times YES 38%, NO 47%, DK 15%

This is in line with Panelbase’s previous polling a NO lead of around 8 to 10 points since the summer  of 2012.

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Whose pound?

images10“Scotland will continue to use the pound, providing continuity and certainty for individuals and businesses in Scotland and the rest of the UK” said Scotland’s Future, the White paper on Scottish independence.

The White paper underlines the fact that the Bank of England will be the bank of last resort and of course the currency would remain the pound sterling.

Much of the debate has centred on the decision of the Scottish government to declare that it wants to continue with the pound. Its going to be its currency of choice should the referendum go the SNP’s way and Scotland cry’s “freedom.”

One of the reasons used to justify this is to facilitate the considerable trade between Scotland and the rest of Britain.

The Irish Pound lasted from 1927 as an independent currency until it was fixed to the euro in 1999. Why mention this fact now, well it’s the only country in these islands to break away from the Union hitherto. Scotland in a less bloody way is attempting the same.

So what of the Irish experience. What the Irish wanted from their currency was price stability. How was this done? A one for one link with the pound sterling.

This was important as the vast bulk of the trade of the fledgling country was with the rump of the Union that they’d left. Scottish trade is also overwhelmingly a cross border trade with the rest of Britain hence the Scottish Government decision to stick with the pound.

It took years for the Republic to divest itself from being a sole trader with the UK and consequently the sterling link was unquestioned by the Irish. But eventually change came, caused by the UK. In the 1970’s the UK economy was in a mess, price inflation was rampant and consequently it threatened Eire’s price stability. Alternatives had to be found to the system.

It was unsustainable for the Irish economy to have different set of objectives and still retain a one to one relationship with the English pound. They had to break free. The same circumstances undoubtedly will effect Scotland sooner or later. The pursuit of different independent economic objectives cannot be sustained using a central bank wedded to sorting the finances of a much larger economy. When it comes down to the crunch the Bank of England will conduct monetary policy for what  remains of the UK.

The Irish  looked to Europe for their salvation from the curse of being tied to Britain’s economic woes. The Irish pound joined  the European Monetary System(EMS) in March 1979.  Britain being Britain decided to stay out. Sterling appreciated sharply and the inevitable happened, within weeks the historic link between sterling and the Irish pound was cut.

After a ropey start the Irish eventually got price stability and the EMS paved the wave towards monetary union which the Irish embraced with enthusiasm and was one of the eleven founder members of the European Monetary Union in 1999. Leading to the Euro becoming legal tender in 2002. So goodbye pound and hello Euro. The rest as they say is history.

How long will it take for the Scottish penny to drop that they too will have to set up their own central bank if they are to run their own economy.  Mr Salmond should think long and hard about adopting sterling as Scotland’s currency.

The founding fathers of the Republic recognised that they had to have their own pound, all be it at first tied one to one with the ‘English’ pound and backed by British securities, liquid sterling balances and gold. OK, at first it was independent in name only, but in time they moved away from the imperial pound.

If its independence they want, Scotland surely would be wise to look over the Irish sea for lessons on breaking away from the Union, not least on what to do about the currency.

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The white paper and Wales

sc003b983aThe launch of the White Paper on the road to independence for Scotland has set the debate off about sovereignty not only in Scotland but also elsewhere within the Union. Once one part of the Union questions its relationship with the central state other parts will also question what they’re getting out of it, as well.

Not least the English themselves. A prediction – English nationalism will assert itself during the long debate on Scotland’s future. There is already an increasing body of opinion within the ranks of the Tory party that hope that Salmond gets his way and they’re shot of the Scots.

How much longer will it be before they turn their sights on Wales? There is already a feeling that a devolved Wales works to England’s disadvantage. It won’t be long before the English start campaigning to cut Wales adrift if it’s to their advantage.

The more the spotlight is on Scotland  the more the English are going to question what they get out of the Union.

Now whatever else one thinks about Carwyn Jones’s little trip to Scotland, he wasn’t wrong to say what happens there has real implications for Wales. It’s not the rise of Scottish nationalism that poses the danger to his Union but the rise in English nationalism that the Scottish referendum will unleash.

So what’s to be done? You can’t put the genie back in the bottle. The Scottish debate about sovereignty is well and truly underway.  The rest of the Kingdom may not have a vote on the future direction of the Union, but it sure as hell is part of the debate. Wales should use the months ahead to decide its direction of travel.

There are important questions  that the country has to ask itself. What plans does the nation have if the Union is a busted flush?  If the Tories try to out UKIP  UKIP and follow an anti-immigration, anti-European little Englander agenda, what’s Carwyn Jones response going to be? If neoliberlaism is the language of a rump UK, what of Wales?

The White paper may be Mr Salmond’s government’s vision, when will Carwyn Jones’s publish his vision? Welsh people also have a right to know what the future holds for them.

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