Thursday, January 30, 2014

Plan A or Plan B spell misery for Scots

Currency unions between sovereign states are a dangerous business for ordinary people as Greeks under the hammer of Troika-imposed austerity will confirm. Or Italians, whose grand coalition of all the parties is systematically destroying living standards and pensions in the name of the euro. Or Spanish people living in poverty as unemployment climbs above 26%.

So when Bank of England governor Mark Carney, addressing business people in Edinburgh yesterday, stressed the dangers of a currency union that doesn't impose shared fiscal policies on all its members he was only stating the obvious. But at least he was bluntly honest.

 "The euro area is now beginning to rectify its institutional shortcomings, but further, very significant steps must be taken to expand the sharing of risks and pooling of fiscal resources. In short, a durable, successful currency union requires some ceding of national sovereignty," he said before delivering his real message.

Carney then confirmed that if this year's referendum vote goes in favour of independence, the   Treasury in London will want a major say in Scotland's tax and spend plans before it agrees to any sterling currency union.

As a Treasury spokesman explained: "Governor Carney today highlights the principled difficulties of entering a currency union: losing national sovereignty, practical risks of financial instability and having to provide fiscal support to bail out another country. This is why the UK government have consistently said that, in the event of independence, a currency union is highly unlikely to be agreed. The Scottish government needs a Plan B."

Scotland’s first minister Alex Salmond’s response is that he does indeed have a plan B. It is to simply go on using the pound without any currency union agreement – a kind of self-supporting Scottish pound. So we are talking about a globally tradable currency, with no reserves behind it, in a country where the banks are amongst the ropiest on earth - what a recipe for disaster!

The 2008 bailout of RBS cost the taxpayers £45.2 billion. Scotland's annual output is just £216bn. At present, RBS has loans and investments of £1.3 trillion, equivalent to more than six times that. It also has £36bn of toxic loans in its “bad bank account” and faces fines for wrongdoing that could be as much as £1 trillion. And we haven't even mentioned the Bank of Scotland, which posted an £8bn loss last year. What price would Scotland's population have to pay to bail that lot out?

The economic choices for ordinary Scots are not looking good, either way. Inside the union it's austerity for generations and misery for the poorest. In an independent capitalist Scotland the choice is either a currency union where key decisions on spending are still imposed by the   Treasury or a level of fiscal uncertainty as a new currency tries to find its feet in a market that is descending into turmoil. Just look at what happened to the Turkish, South African and other currencies this week.

But there is another way to resolve the currency question and the political and economic issues too. We need to move away from a nationalist agenda for a capitalist Scotland to one where we have a say on what kind democracy, what kind of constitution, what kind of economy, what kind of currency ordinary people want.

With that as the focus of a campaign for a “Yes” vote, we could turn the referendum away from narrow nationalism into a debate about what real self-determination means. The message should go out loud and clear: we don’t want the rule of the banks and corporations wherever we live or a political system that leaves the elites firmly in control.

And that would undoubtedly inspire people in England, Wales and the north of Ireland to find their own route to challenging and defeating the power of the common enemy.
Penny Cole

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