So that was the great debate then. The media has, entirely predictably, already decided that Alistair’s tiring liar salad has won it for the Union, and the Yes campaign can pack up and go home because it’s another blow for Alicsammin. Which is a variant on what they were saying last week, and the week before that. Alicsammin’s never been known to do anything except being blown – in fact according to the UK media he gets blown more often than a sexaholic with a lifetime membership of a swingers’ club. Nae wonder he’s always accused of looking smug. So it’s hard to judge the reality from the media reports. But allegedly it was all about bleedin currency unions and feck all else.
It’s worth repeating even if a callous the size of Ben Nevis develops on the foreheads we batter off the brick wall of UK media reportage, but the currency union issue is a not a fundamental or basic issue. It’s a practicality not a principle.
I have actually given serious and considered thought to the whole currency union thang. I have read economics papers, and this is an imposition to be deeply resented because they are word porridges of jargonese – about something that’s bloody boring and with far less literary flavour than the instructions on the back of a packet of Scotts porridge oats. The mechanics of money just don’t row my boat. I’m missing out on the capitalism gene, or maybe I’m just not a shallow materialistic git and understand that value and worth aren’t the same as a pricetag. But for whatever reason, economics bores the airse aff me. And I’m sure that I’m not alone there. It makes us normal.
Anyway, like the majority in this country I’m not daft, at least most of the time. I possess a good Scottish education. I can even count without using my fingers and do long division in my head because I was born before calculators were invented. Those of us possessed of this skill are far more mathematically qualified than George Osborne or Danny Alexander. Although to be fair, Danny does know how to multiply by twelve.
So following profound cogitation upon the pros and cons of a formal sterling zone, a new Scottish currency, using the pound without a formal currency union, and the assorted other options, I’ve come to the conclusion – and I mean this in a considered, caring and loving way -that I really, deeply, truly don’t give a flying fuck about a currency union.
Seriously, who gives a shit apart from former Chancellors of the Exchequer. It’s a practical problem to which a practical solution will be found, and the only reason we keep hearing about it is because it’s the central plank of the No campaign. It’s the only plank they’ve got other than the short thick ones who get elected. And the only reason ordinary punters give a shit is because Alistair and his pals in the papers tell us that it’s Pure Dead Important. It is to them – because it’s their only plank. That doesn’t mean it needs to be important to the rest of us.
Ireland continued to use sterling for six years after independence in 1922. Then they introduced a currency pegged to sterling. Sterling notes continued to circulate freely in Ireland for the next seventy years. Life went on and the sky did not fall in. Did the average person spending their pounds/punts in Ireland notice or care that the country went from using sterling to pegging its own currency to the pound? Nope, they just kept on using the same money. All they noticed was the pretty new designs on the Irish coinage and banknotes which circulated alongside the British money they were long familiar with. Wee Celtic animals, I seem to remember. A lot nicer to look at than a Windsor.
To the average punter like you or me it makes no difference at all what mechanism is used to keep the pound – currency union or unilaterally using the pound or whatever – we just keep on being skint or splurging out on the latest bargains as usual. Our wages and pensions are paid, our bank accounts retain the same amounts. And that’s all we need to know or care about. Scotland will continue to use the pound, everything else is boring mechanics. I don’t care if a car has a wangle flange accumulator spork in its engine or a differential drive shaft makeup bag, as long as it takes me from A to B it does all that is required of it and my interest begins and ends there. The currency union argument is the Jeremy Clarkson of the independence debate.
At this point, if you’re channelling Alistair Darling – which is a deeply unsettling experience – you’ll be going look look look, you’ll have no lender of last resort, and you’ll probably be wagging a finger accusingly. But that only means that Scottish banks won’t be able to engage in high risk casino banking and the Scottish government will have to regulate them more tightly to ensure that they behave themselves and don’t run up huge debts. This is a bad thing? It is if you’re Alistair Darling or Fred the Shred. But allowing folk like Fred to determine our economic policies is why we’ve got all this austerity crap to begin with.
I’d quite like to see the banking sector kept on a short leash. It’s highly volatile you know. Meanwhile it’s worth remembering that a national government is only responsible for the debts accrued by a bank within national territory. Scotland would only have to bail out a failed bank for its Scottish debts, not its global debts.
Cooperation is required between Holyrood and Westminster in order for a formal currency union to work, it’s one of the few areas where close cooperation is required after independence. So naturally Westminster is refusing to cooperate as a threat and is exaggerating the importance of the currency issue out of all importance to its true worth. They seek to downplay the damage a refusal would wreak to the rest of the UK while over-egging the damage it would do to Scotland. They want us to fixate on their pricetag but not to consider the true worth of their argument. Do you want to vote for people who threaten to rip you off and who are willing to damage you and themselves in order to punish you? Seems like poor value for your vote. Westminster are the dodgy mechanics who sook their teeth and say “Oooh, it’s gaunnie cost ye.”
Would Scotland be bound to follow Westminster’s economic policies? Not really. There would have to be agreement on borrowing, but it takes two to agree remember. Westminster will no longer be able to unilaterally impose. This is a vast improvement on the current situation, and the Scottish government would have greatly increased freedom to make the best financial and economic decisions for Scotland. We would not be ruled by the UK Treasury, whatever nonsense that No campaigners spout.
And then there’s the indebted elephant in the room. That would be the UK Treasury and the £1.4 trillion of UK national debt. The pound is a UK asset, it belongs to Scotland as much as the rest of the UK. And let’s have nane o this crap about it being the property of the UK and we’re leaving the UK. Right now, right here, we are the UK. And when Scotland becomes independent we will take our share of what is ours from the UK. Nae assets, nae debt.
The UK Treasury has already assured the money markets that it will retain responsiblity for the UK national debt, and there are no lenders anywhere who possess an IOU saying “I owe you squillions of quid, xx Scotland”. Scotland has precisely zero legal liability, and anyone who tells you we have a moral duty to take our share of the debt or we will be punished by the markets is talking pish. Bankers don’t do morality, that lesson should be clear to one and all by now. What Westminster wants is for Scotland to undertake to pay a share of the UK national debt to the rUK Treasury, not to the international money markets. And that’s a very big bargaining chip in Scotland’s hands. It’s not one that the Scottish Government chooses to highlight, because they don’t want to spook the markets. Funny thing rapacious capitalism. It savages humanity but is itself more easily startled than a new born fawn. It’s a Bambi I’d cheerfully strangle.
All the banks are interested in is ability to pay. They are not going to punish Scotland for not taking on a debt for which we have no legal liability, in fact there is a good argument that they would punish us for taking on a share of the debt – what sort of creditor undertakes to repay debts which are not theirs legally? That’s a creditor that a lender might be concerned about. How can they be certain we’ll pay the debt we have to them if we have a history of taking on the repayment of debts that we don’t have a legal obligation to pay? So it cuts both ways.
This conveniently distracts us from the million and one other areas in which Westminster cooperation will not be required after independence. All those other planks that Westminster is short of. We will not have to ask Westminster’s permission to get rid of Trident or the House of Lords. We will not have to ask Westminster’s permission to abolish the cruel and capricious system of benefit sanctions introduced by Ian Duncan Smith. We will not require Westminster’s cooperation in order to reindustrialise the Scottish economy. We will not require Westminster’s permission to introduce land reform. We can do all these things for ourselves, and do them far better than Westminster ever has, currency union, no currency union, or whatever.
Currency union? Meh. Who cares, it’s a practical problem to which a practical solution will be found by our highly paid elected representatives. That’s why we pay them. Meanwhile there are far more important issues which really are deserving of our attention – like the scandal of foodbanks and fuel poverty, protecting our NHS, and getting rid of the obscenity of nuclear weapons.