When is bluff not a bluff? [Scotland Decides]


When is a bluff not a bluff? When it’s working, of course. Alex Salmond insists that Alistair Darling and his chums are bluffiing on the shared currency. That I agree with. The problem is Alex doesn’t notice that this bluff is working.  His response to questioning during Tuesday’s Scotland Decides debate – questions from Bernard Ponsby and the audience as well as those by Darling – were not dealt with as they should have been.

It was bad enough that Alex Salmond mishandled questions about the shared currency, but the problem was made a hell of a lot worse by his spin doctors later that night simply sticking to the line. This made them look like Blairites unable to think of their feet. This will have encouraged rank and file supporters to dig in their heels with the line handed down to them from central command. And it is a line that is not, and cannot work. When you’re in a hole, please stop digging.

Alex Salmond and all the YES Campaign official leadership have to do several things. Firstly, it would not be a bad thing to fess up to past mistakes. Nicola Sturgeon made a self deprecating joke about her own shouty experience, and that makes her look human. Facing reality, and accepting that Alex Salmond didn’t deal with questions about the shared currency correctly will help him. Nothing wrong with accepting a mistake. The question now is what was his mistake, and how to fix it.

Alex Salmond needs to spend a fair bit of time in his next debate(s) to fix the problems we all now have. If he screwed up as a consequence of his hands being tied by his team (which is what I am assuming), he need not blame others. Indeed, it would be best not to do that. After all, the buck stops with him. If he signed off on a policy he didn’t think was right, the fault is as much his as any collective group that outvoted him. If it turns out that some of his team refuse to budge from the position he advocated on Tuesday, and threaten to resign from his team if he changes tack, then that is fine by me. He should let them go.

The position today has many voters worried that Alex Salmond is happy with reducing the Scottish people to a barter economy. This is the extent of the problems that he now has. Alex Salmond, Blair Jenkins and other simply repeat the line that the Pound will be Scotland’s currency. That begs several questions.

Firstly, there is nothing wrong, as a temporary measure, for an independent Scotland to use a currency over which it has zero control. Sterling is the obvious choice. But that is the Panama option that Alex Salmond ruled out. If he had accepted it, this would be a problem as it is not sustainable in the long term. It could only be a transition to something else. Unless Scotland would embrace the Euro, it has to be an independent currency, or a joint currency with someone else. The BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) global economic powerhouse may set up an alternative to the dollar, and new financial institutions built around a new currency backed up by gold, can’t be too far off now, a currency liable to work in tandem with crypto-currencies like Bitcoin. Using such a currency may be the best, but that is for the future. Transitional to that, conceivably in parallel with it, a Scottish currency would work fine.

But Alex Salmond and his supporters insist that the Bank of England can be kept as Scotland’s bank of last resort under totally untenable circumstances. Sovereignty over borrowing limits would be zero if an independent Scotland anchored itself to the BOE. I don’t have a problem with this. But some SNP MPs and MSPs imply this is not the case. That makes them look economically illiterate. What needs to be stressed is that losing total power over borrowing is fine so long as power over tax and spend accrue to an independent state.

Ed Balls, Alistair Darling, Johann Lamont, not to mention their Tory and Lib Dem allies obfuscate the distinction between sovereignty over borrowing limits, on the one hand, and tax and spend, on the other. That is because all three of these parties are indifferent to radical wealth and income redistribution, universal benefits, and collective provision of socially necessary public services.

Alex Salmond has to concede how much sovereignty would be ceded to the UK if an independent Scotland had a shared currency. It would not be insubstantial, but there would be a cost-benefit analysis for Scotland’s voters to weigh up. One person, one vote basis could determine if it is in Scotland’s interests. Jim Sillars and Patrick Harvie may vote one way, Alex Salmond another. I don’t know how I’d vote. It is a judgement call.

Alex Salmond as an individual, and his party, won’t get to determine Scotland’s currency because we are discussing national self-determination. Scots may disagree with his negotiations. But just as he can’t write a blank cheque on behalf of six million Scots, neither can George Osborne, Danny Alexander and Ed Balls. Not even when the leaders of their party and all their MPs sign up to this. The English voters have a say in this too, and they may not agree with Better Together’s leaders on the shared currency. Not when it is spelt out to them what precisely this means.

Kicking Scotland out of the shared currency is an abidcation of rights to impose any part of the United Kingdom’s debt onto the people of Scotland. A free Scotland then gets off scot free. Free of all the debt a profligate, privatizing, war-mongering, champagne swilling, snouts in trough British Establishment have accumulated over the last half century while simultaneously frittering away Scotland’s North Sea Oil in bailing out their civil war with the mining communities and breaking the backs of the trade union movement, selling off the family silver, even gold reserves at knock down prices. It’s all gone? Scotland doesn’t deserve to be held responsible for any of this profligacy. And if our centuries of paying into the coffers of the Bank of England has bought us no share in their assets, nothing to negotiate over, then we bare responsibility for not one brass farthling of their liabilities neither.

This arguments needs to be spelt out to Scotland’s voters in time for the referendum. It has to be done forcefully well in advance. This should have been hammered home on Tuesday. But it wasn’t. Maybe in passing. But it was not explained as forcefully as was necessary. Furthermore, it is not just important to stress this to get out the vote; it is as important to see to it that the English voters know what is at stake also. They don’t realize that this is what makes it essential that they keep the pound with Scotland. The shared currency has no downside for the English. They need it. Frankly, it is us for whom it is a double-edged sword.

To return to my original thesis: a bluff that works is as effective as a position that is not a bluff. And Alex Salmond must know he cannot impose his will on the English people, unless he is proposing Scotland goes to war with England over seats on the committees at the Bank of England, those that determine interest rates. Unless he is proposing war, he needs to accept that if the rest of the United Kingdom reject a shared currency, we can’t have one. Negotiations are key. Each side has something to negotiate with. And we both have alternatives. But it is an independent Scotland that has the stronger hand. If we explain precisely why that is, the Better Together Parties can rapidly be persuaded to drop their bluff and agree to negotiate in good faith. Then, and only then, can this entire distraction can be put to bed. And Scotland’s YES Campaign can return to the real issues of substance.


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