For A Fistful Of…

Last night’s debate between Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling was less than edifying. It was blustering, bruising and battering. It could have been edifying, enlightening and entertaining.

Alas.

Here is my two Euro Cents (pun absolutely intended) about the currency.

That blast from the past from News Night of Alistair Darling talking about the currency union does make for interesting viewing.

When asked by the interviewer about the currency union he says,

‘If there was independence there may well be one.’

He is then asked, ‘Let’s say you were a chancellor of an Independent Scotland, what would you say, would you say you’d be better off in the Euro? Or you’d be better off with an independent pound?’

His response,

‘Of course it would be desirable to have a currency union but you also have to understand there are consequences. Because a currency union means you’ve both got to agree your budgets. You’ve both got to agree how much you can tax, spend and borrow and the point I’m making is – that’s not freedom.’

So Alistair is pushing Alex and the debate to come up with alternatives because he doesn’t think a situation where two countries have to collaborate and work together when they share a cultural and social history gives them enough freedom? Is Alistair Darling actually a radical Yes supporter?

We already have a currency union, we already have two countries that have to coordinate spending and borrowing. Alex is willing to continue some of that dialogue and cooperation with our shared currency but Alistair says that’s not good enough because it’s not independent enough? If Alistair were a politician of imagination and character he would have said, ‘We both know a currency union is workable and that we could arrange something, but I just feel there’s no point. We’d go through all this independence but still be fundamentally linked.’ He could even have said, ‘I think we need to push for Devo Max and I will be throwing my weight around to make sure that Scottish Labour recognise the passion and commitment of those who have contributed from all sides of the debate and I push that we capitalise on this passion and desire and focus this energy on stronger, tougher devolution. But I don’t see why we cut the ties and yet keep this connection. Why have Indie Light when we can have Devo Max?’

But Alistair is not a politician of imagination and character.

He says this later in the News Night clip, ‘Of course if you decide to separate a currency union is desirable but don’t, but do not believe that, what I’m, what I’m drawing attention to is the objectionable terms and conditions and the fact that no longer will we be, this is something that we all agree on, you’ve got, you’ve got two partners who have to agree Scotland’s budget.’

One could argue of course that’s what we already have.

He is asked,

‘Do you think a currency union is the interest of the United Kingdom?’

His response,

‘Of course, if you have independence or separation of course a currency union is logical and do you know why? Because a currency union automatically leads to an economic and then a political union which is what we’ve got now. I believe in the political union.’

So he thinks that a currency union would be desirable for Scotland and in the interest of the United Kingdom but would be pointless because it would inevitably lead to reunification…

I believe he told us at least twice last night during the debate that this decision is forever, with no going back. He still thinks this despite the fact he also believes that the policy of the Scottish government would ultimately lead to reunification?

‘I find this very interesting, so you think that actually should Scotland vote to be independent, A: you think a currency union with the rest of the UK is preferable to joining the Euro or having an independent currency and B: you think it would be in the interest of the U… the rest of the UK, as it would be then, to have a currency union with Scotland?’

‘Let me answer your question. I don’t think it would be in our interest to join the Euro. I can’t see that’s going to change for sometime. I think that using somebody else’s currency as they’re now suggesting, with the Bank of England as a foreign bank fixing your interest rates with no lender of last resort, no central bank, so no one to stand behind your financial institutions would be mad. That takes you to a currency union and you know what, a currency union like we see in Europe takes you to an economic union and then ultimately a political union and guess what? You’re back where we are in a United Kingdom. Why go through all this rigamarole, all this trauma, as the nationalists are suggesting, to end up at the very base you started out from.’

He then says,

‘So I’m entirely consistent. You know? I want, first of all I don’t want to go through all that mess, if you like, to ultimately end up where we started from.’

Then he says the following,

‘But if you’re going to do it then of course it’s logical to do that but remember but understand where you end up. You understand your budgets have to be agreed by England, Wales and Northern Ireland but ultimately, you end up with a political union.’

Where was this last night? Instead of hectoring Alex Salmond over a plan B he could have said
‘But if you’re going to do it then of course it’s logical to do that but remember but understand where you end up. You understand your budgets have to be agreed by England, Wales and Northern Ireland but ultimately, you end up with a political union.’

He could have argued that independence without a separate currency is not really independence. That it causes pointless hassle. Instead he pushed Alex to advocate an alternative and suggested that he and the rest of us in Scotland would be left scrabbling around with no money and no plan and no return to union, banished to the hinterland. This was not honorable, respectful or kind. He could have said that while a currency union is logical and desirable, it is in his opinion only going to lead back to where we started from and therefore pointless. He could have spent his time interrogating Alex Salmond starting a constructive conversation about how change and more autonomy is clearly the will of the Scottish people and discussing the relative benefits of Devo Max.

(Devo Max, is short for Devolution Max – an alternative proposal whereby Scotland and the rest of the UK are still formally united but a much greater proportion of power, including crucially the raising of taxes, is devolved. So Scotland is still a part of the UK enterprise but has much more independence to choose what to invest in and what values it wants to act on)

But he didn’t. Because the No Campaign aren’t made up entirely of (wannabe) left of centre people of social conscience. There are other forces there. And Better Together doesn’t want to just win. It wants to win big and dirty.

Why isn’t there an option for Devo Max on the table?

Why aren’t more firm commitments being made to ensure Scotland wants more powers.

Is it because the establishment wants to put this question to bed? Wants things to stay just the same thank you very much.

I strongly believe from my conversations with people leading up to the referendum that the majority of people living in Scotland want more independence for Scotland. Not all of them want Full Fat all the way independence, but certainly more independence on how to run the country. But the debate has been polarized. What we don’t want is the status quo.

Established interests have a lot of established interest in the status quo.

They have an interest in making this debate about pushing away from the local, towards the centre.

The people living in Scotland deserve a debate that pits Indie Lite against Devo Max.

I was told repeatedly last night that the debate was already being talked about as the most important in Scotland’s history.

It wasn’t.

By a long shot.

I, and others, believe it is desirable to have a currency union and have the power to raise our own taxes and decide what to do with them. I do realise this will entail cooperation and coordination. But I’d rather enter that room as partners, rather than as weirdly unbalanced colleagues. I also agree it sounds a lot like Devo Max. I disagree with Alistair Darling that a currency union inevitably leads to political union and that that political union is indistinguishable with what we have now. I disagree, but I respect that opinion and see where he is coming from. Badgering Alex to come up with an alternative because it makes UK look macho and Scotland petulant is an opinion I don’t respect and I don’t see where he’s coming from.

In psychology they talk about having different dynamics between people. Adult-adult or parent-child. The ideal is to be able to relate to one another like adults. Unfortunately we often find ourselves parenting or patronising one another. Conversely we are sometimes childish or petulant to other people. In one we are too concerned with the other in the second we are too concerned with ourselves. The irony is that the more we ‘parent’ someone the more childish they will become and the more frustrating the interaction we will be. If you are petulant, you will be patronised. If you are bossy people will wind you up.

When it came to the currency last night we had Alistair Darling playing the part of the parent trying to force Alex Salmond to be the child.

We could have had a debate between two adults.

I want to finish by saying I think this referendum is about far, far, far more than currency or even economics. I thought I would wade into this issue considering so much time was devoted to it yesterday but it is by no means my intention to continue doing so. As far as I’m concerned it is simple – a currency union is possible but opinions are divided as to whether it leads to true independence. I think it can, others think it can’t. Currency is not the be all and end all and there’s so much more we can talk about. I’d take a fistful of Euro cents if it stopped someone having to go to a food bank.

So enough about currency. Tomorrow I’ll talk about pancakes and unicorns.

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