Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A short (nationalist) economic history of UK currency union

I'll keep this very brief.  I don't understand the fuss about Governor Mark Carney's comments about the prospects of a currency union in the event of a Yes vote in September because what he actually said was uncontroversial but also entirely predictable.  But it seems to be only Jim Sillars reminding people that it was Salmond himself who argued for years that the UK was not an optimal currency area.  The suggestion made during a more buoyant time for the UK economy was that Scotland was locked into a deflationary monetary straight-jacket because of the high interest rates needed to cool an 'overheating' South of England.  The alternative, lest we forget, was membership of the Euro, which Salmond presumably thought was an optimal currency zone.  Therefore by Salmond's own analysis, a currency union with the rest of the UK would be less in Scotland's interests than it was before because one of the key ingredients essential to a properly functioning currency zone is cross-national fiscal transfers.

However, we unionists shouldn't crow too much because there's two good pieces of news for the Nationalists:

1) Carney's comments show a currency union is feasible, if not desirable, and tends to reinforce the impression I already had that talk of 'Scotland won't be allowed to use the pound' was just plain daft.

2) I'm not sure how much attention anyone's paying to any of this outside the Twittersphere.  I keep reading that 'it's the economy, stupid' with regards to the likely outcome of the Referendum but despite this train-wreck of a currency argument, it doesn't seem to have harmed the Yes campaign's poll ratings, despite how much some of us think it should.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Voting and the age of consent

I see that Labour has copied the SNP (and the Greens, I think) policy of extending the franchise to 16 and 17-year-olds.  The express purpose is to overcome 'voter apathy' and they hope to do this by enfranchising a section of the population that are at least as apathetic and disengaged as those who are just one rung above them in the age-bracket ranking?

It is a policy favoured by those who have had teenagers described to them or who have only met them in the context of staged events with minders and media advisers protecting them from any stray words that might cause them discomfort.  They might want to look at that... But it highlights a wider issue.  I wouldn't mind so much if this suggestion sprung from a wider consensus about when the transition from childhood to adulthood actually takes place.  But you will find neither in law nor in the position the various political parties take on various issues any consistency.

As far as the Labour party is concerned, for example, in recent years they have taken the view that the sexual age of consent should be 16, regardless of orientation, but the age at which you can either leave education or buy tobacco should be 18.

The SNP, who to be fair have consistently advocated votes for 16-year-olds, rejected the idea of compulsory education past this age.  Thank goodness for that.  However, this was the party who also tried but failed to raise the drinking age to 21!

The Conservatives might have a claim to be reasonably consistent - if it wasn't for the fact that they seem to be brewing plans to extend childhood to 25 with their housing benefit plans.  Those who think this is outrageous are right but they might want to remember that childhood was extended to 25 quite some time ago when it came to the issue of regarding parental income in relation to student grants (remember those?).

Can we discern any pattern?  It is that these parties have a concept of an age of consent only for things they approve of.  "Join the army, enter a war zone - but have a fag and a pint?  Oh, we can't let you do that!  It would be too dangerous".  Understood in this way, enfranchising 16-year-olds is an act of paternalism and I wouldn't be surprised if 'our young people' stuck two fingers up in response.  I wouldn't blame them either.


Friday, January 17, 2014

Tough Young Teachers

'Tough Young Teachers': not quite 'Reservoir Dogs', is it?
I saw this last night.  I usually avoid 'reality TV', especially ones that have anything to do with teaching.  They aren't good for my blood pressure and last night's programme was no exception.

What to say about the 'Tough Young Teachers'?  Well, they're certainly young... It's difficult to know whether and to what extent this programme bears any relation to the actual reality of English schools but assuming the classes weren't actually staged and that the staff who appeared in it weren't actors, one aspect of the programme - and the internet chat about it - really stood out.

This is the extent to which teaching and learning in England is understood to be an individual enterprise.  All the talk on Twitter was about who was good, who was bad, who was a posh twat and so on.  Yes, yes - but what about the environment they were working in?  This was the blood-pressure raising point for me.  Certainly Meryl wasn't very authoritative, to put it mildly.  But what kind of school is it where a Headteacher and a 'Vice Principal' - whatever they do - can 'observe' a lesson and the only person who fears them is the teacher?  Then the Headteacher point out that the student has dropped a 't' in 'daughter'?  A phrase about straining a gnat while chomping on a huge camel-burger springs to mind.  Instead, ask yourself why it is the pupils in your school misbehave with impunity, as if you were not even there!

The programme seemed to feed into the wider notion - one that seems to have assumed the status of cross-party orthodoxy in England - that what the school system needs is more virtuosos.  The extent to which this is the case can be seen in the pronouncements of Labour's tough young Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt.  He seems to have been copying Mr Gove's homework but has added some thoughts of his own.  One of these is his latest weird idea that classroom management would be helped by training ninja-teacher discipline specialists.  What is this nonsense?  It is the function of the institution to maintain order, in which every teacher plays but a part.  And at the top of the hierarchy is, of course, the management.  If they are unable to maintain order, instead of suggesting they should be able to outsource their responsibility, I would have thought more people should be asking what on earth are they for?

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Referendum 2014

Oh I know.  But, well...  Anyway, from lovely Paul Evans via the book of the face I have learned that (in as far as I could understand it, gambling being one of the few vices I just don't get) the bookies aren't offering very good odds on a 'Yes' vote in the referendum.  This being as it may, I'd still reckon it's worth a punt.  The respective campaigns have conspicuously failed to make a dent in Scots' voting intentions. I have a few thoughts as to why this is happening with regards the 'Yes' campaign but I agree with those who, despite the polling evidence to the contrary, do not think the referendum is a foregone conclusion.  In the interests of even-handedness, here's two or three problems the 'No' campaign has:

1) Negativity. Don't get me wrong, much of the accusations of negativity and 'scaremongering' from the Nationalists are absolute bullshit - as if it were scaremongering to ask questions about the obvious difficulties that disentangling one state from another would entail.  Rather, there is an intrinsic negativity to the 'No' campaign that few people are willing to defend - and the reason that this is so is because there are so few people who are prepared to declare themselves to be sceptics and conservatives with a small 'c'.  It's so counter the spirit of this age.  You need to be positive, man!  Someone, I can't remember who, made the sharp observation that even when a politician's political views are cautious, conciliatory and centrist, they nevertheless feel the need to come out with some horse-shit about belong to the 'radical centre'.  Many of us who are Unionists are of such a sceptical disposition - so when Nationalists say, "We Scots are just as good as anyone else!", we respond, "Aye, and we're just as bad as everyone else".  This leads to the second problem:

2) Inertia.  One of the most boring and stupid lines from the 'Yes' camp is this notion that those of us who are Unionists are obliged to come out with a 'positive vision for Scotland'.  Please!  I'm not a very positive guy and I leave visions for those of a religious disposition; you want me to do both?  But again it's the scepticism that under-pins the problem.  I don't agree that it's complacency that is behind the rather relaxed attitude of the 'No' camp; it's that it is difficult to mobilise people to fight merely to maintain things as they are.  Nationalist campaigners are motivated into action with the hope that there's a bright future ahead.  Don't think I don't know.  My son's mother is a Nationalist and does lots of local organising leafleting stuff in areas of Glasgow where the rule of law is but a faint rumour.  Things are going to have to get pretty desperate before you catch me doing anything as mental as that.

3) The doctrine of absolute anti-Toryism.   It's not really a doctrine and it's pointless to ask whether and to what extent it is rational; what is required is to acknowledge that it exists north of the border and is very deeply felt.  "We're not English, we're not Tories" doesn't count as a positive campaign in my book but it doesn't do to underestimate its appeal.  David Cameron, despite his expensive private education, has never struck me as being the sharpest tool in the box but at least he isn't stupid enough to fall for the elephant trap that is the invitation to debate Alex Salmond on the issue of Scottish independence.  But it doesn't end there.  Like so much of the Nationalist rhetoric, the notion of constitutionally ruling out any possibility of Conservative rule is shallow, short-termist and absurdly partisan but only a fool would underestimate the emotional potency of this message.

As for the 'Yes' campaign - ah, but where to begin?  I can't even pretend to be able to distinguish the aspects of their strategy that are genuinely causing them problems from those that are merely annoying to me but assuming that there's a possibility that there's an overlap between the two, here's a few things the Nationalists might want to consider:

1) Pathologising the opposition.  It involves no exaggeration to say that the Nationalists think Unionism is a species of mental illness.  No, really.  We're not talking psychosis, merely neurosis.  "What are you afraid of?", they cry when they're not hashtagging 'ProjectFear' after ever Unionist query.  It doesn't seem to have occurred to any of them, as far as I can see, that some of us are Unionists merely because we quite like being part of Britain; we have an affection for what is familiar and are completely and utterly unconvinced with this political project that wants to collapse all of Scotland's problems into the constitutional question.  The strategically significant point here is that Nationalists are ill-equipped to convert anyone expect the undecided because they treat anyone who disagrees with them, not as an opponent to be persuaded, but as someone in need of psychological help.  This used to annoy me - now I'm convinced it forms part of the reason why the Nationalists are losing.          

2) "An independent Scotland would be more left-wing and more like Ireland".  This appeals to quite a lot of my colleagues because they're both left-wing and Catholics of Irish descent.  They don't care much for the monarchy and the British army they like even less, for fairly obvious historical reasons.  The problem is that I don't think these feelings are that widely-shared by the Scottish electorate.  I don't know if the Nationalists will lose in September but if they do, part of the reason will be that they've succumbed to the myth of Scotland as a significantly more left-wing country than England.

3) The currency question.  Only a true believer could see the protean position of the Nationalists on the issue of what kind of money an independent Scotland would use as anything other than a slow-motion car-crash.  Membership of Sterling has gone from being something that trapped Scotland in a deflationary monetary straight-jacket to being so obviously desirable that an independent Scotland would persist with it, with or without the permission of Westminster.  "It's our currency as much as theirs and no-one can stop us using it".  This is one where it's difficult to assess whether and to what extent it is doing damage to the Nationalist cause.  It's an issue that form part of a wider phenomenon where the SNP argue, in effect, that an independent Scotland could join any international arrangement they like on their own terms.  They'd keep Sterling and the Bank of England would be obliged to give them representation on the MPC; stay part of NATO but no nukes; automatic membership of the EU but no Euro for the time being, thank you very much.  This, surely, is the talk of children?  Damaging the Nationalist cause?  I think so but not as much as it should be...

Friday, January 03, 2014

Gove on WWI

Education Secretary Michael Gove has taken issue with the interpretation of the Great War as nothing more than industrialised mass-slaughter in the following manner:
"The conflict has, for many, been seen through the fictional prism of dramas such as Oh! What a Lovely War, The Monocled Mutineer and Blackadder, as a misbegotten shambles – a series of catastrophic mistakes perpetrated by an out-of-touch elite. Even to this day there are Left-wing academics all too happy to feed those myths."
The Twitter response has been as you might expect - most of it along the lines of, "Ah, but it was a misbegotten shambles and anyone arguing otherwise is an idiot". It pains me to say so (really) but I'm not sure that Gove is entirely wrong. Not in his particular take on the Great War, I would stress, but in his suggestion that what might be termed as the 'War Poets' view has been accepted rather uncritically. The reaction to his comments rather reinforce this impression - suggesting that the only conceivable lesson one could possibly draw from the conflict is one about the futility and horror of war.  Expressions about the flip-side of the same coin spring to mind...

No, the problem with what Gove said lies not in his interpretation of history but his idea that you'd have to be a leftwinger to take issue with what he says.  We've seen this before.  He has, for example, explained opposition to his education reforms as attributable to the prevalence of 'Marxist ideology' in the teaching profession.  This struck me as being a little like that; one gains the impression that Gove is engaging with a cartoon - one that he has drawn in his own mind.  Who are these 'left-wing academics' that he refers to?  I wouldn't know if they dominate history departments in English universities but I'd make a sizeable wager that they certainly do not dominate the field of military history.  As it is, Gove has named only Richard Evans, an academic that he seems to have a rather schizophrenic attitude towards, given he praised his work on the Third Reich on a previous occasion.

The description of the Great War as 'industrialised mass-slaughter' is hardly original but is one I quote verbatim from Norman Stone's short history of World War One.  No leftwinger he and neither is Niall Ferguson.  One wonders if Gove would have invited him to advise on the history curriculum had he been aware of his views on Britain's role in the Great War.  The other possibility, of course, is that he is perfectly aware of them and is being disingenuous.  It's not Gove's views about history that should be concerning people so much as his red-bating.

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