Friday, 16 June 2017

The Devil You Don't Know

I’ve been trying to think back to the old days. Were those of us who were enthused by Gene McCarthy’s ‘Children’s Crusade’ as ill-informed as the youth of today? Did we really think, back in 1968, that you could have everything for free?

Do you know, I don’t think we did. We did tend to remark that we’d rather be red than dead, which still chimes with Jeremy Corbyn’s attitude today, but in those days the Keynesian idea was that you really could restart economic growth by deficit financing.

Around 1976, as I recall, Jim Callaghan announced to the Labour Party Conference that spending your way out of recession only led in the long run to inflation. There are limits. You cannot indefinitely borrow money from your children to finance the living standards of today.

In the last twelve months we’ve seen Bernie Sanders in the USA, Jean-Luc Melenchon in France and Jeremy Corbyn in the UK each enunciate their conviction that these issues have not really been resolved conclusively, and we’ve seen a new generation of enthusiastic youth convinced they have found a new answer rather than a recycled intellectual blind alley.

I do hope I’m wrong, but I have a nasty feeling the dragon of inflation is not slain but only sleeping.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Minority Government Options

I understand the distaste in some quarters for a government to be supported by the DUP. But consider please what Scots would have to endure if Labour were to do a deal with the SNP. 63% of us have just voted against the SNP, sending a very clear message that we don't want another referendum. Would Labour give them one anyway in order to get into government?

So far as I understand it there is no threat of a CON + DUP coalition, the proposal is for a 'confidence & supply' arrangement. This does not involve importing DUP social policy into mainland Britain. Almost certainly, I should have thought, the price they will exact is a soft border with Eire after Brexit.

When eating with the devil, use a long spoon. Of the two deals with two devils likely to be on offer in the short term, I'm inclined to feel one of the alternative spoons needs to be substantially longer.

Fortunately the Northern Irish peace process has two referees not one. The role of the second referee is automatically strengthened when the NI Assembly is suspended and I suspect that any error by referee one would very speedily result in an appeal to referee two.

Secondly the price likely to be demanded by the DUP (see above) is not politically controversial in NI as far as I know. No-one is likely to complain if they extract this concession. Note that it is a big concession. If you must have agreement on the NI border then you cannot carry out any threat to walk away without a deal.

Thirdly, should anyone ask why Unionist Scots are afraid of another referendum given they should win it easily, I reply that no-one who did not experience the gut-wrenching unpleasantness of our last referendum can possibly understand. We are trying vainly to rebuild our community with the threat of another vitriolic campaign constantly hanging over our heads like the sword of Damocles.

Fourthly, as I've said before, referenda settle nothing. The losers never accept the democratic verdict and go on campaigning as though nothing had happened in the hope of wearing down the majority will by sheer importunity. Frankly I'm with Brenda from Bristol. We've had enough!

What we actually need is a grand coalition in which the two large parties come together for the duration of the Brexit talks and sort out a common British negotiating position. 

Sunday, 28 May 2017

People who made things to last: An Appreciation

  1. Chain Harrows. Probably the earliest form of grassland maintenance implement of the modern era. Still as good as the day they were made back in who knows when. To you, gentlemen, thank you for your skill and work.
  2. My Ford 3000 Super-Dexta tractor. Probably produced at the Ford Tractor plant in Basildon Essex in 1967. Gentlemen, your machine has today put in a seriously good shift in the fields fifty years after rolling off the production line. She still runs beautifully and pulls beautifully. My salutations, sirs, you knew how to build tractors.

We hear a lot of complaints when things are done wrong but I don't think we hear enough congratulations when things go right. So my grateful thanks to you both.

Saturday, 27 May 2017

A dry spell

My writing output in April was similar to the weather - a long dry spell. However a downpour in mid-May coincided with another burst of writing productivity. I've recently finished my first new story in two months and I received an acceptance from the respected Third and Starlight anthology for a reprint of 'The Waiting Room.'

In the meantime I as usual turned to writing poetry. By this, of course, I mean formal poetry as opposed to free verse. For some reason I find the discipline of metre and rhyme helpful, even though the output is not saleable in today's free-verse dominated poetry market. I suppose the modern fashion really is poetry because the market tells me so, but personally I prefer prose properly punctuated. If you'd like to see some of my recent work, there are some new pieces on this blog's poetry page.

One strange result of the freak weather has been the may blossom blooming in May high up on top of Sliabh Mannan rather than as it more commonly does in June.

camellia (unknown variety)
To my surprise and pleasure a camellia bought cheaply in a car boot sale years ago has produced its first flower (left.) I had suspected it would turn out to be Japonica rather than Williamsii. The former, it seems, just don't flower at this altitude. However it has just about the most sheltered spot on the place, so it does have its best chance. It was anybody's guess as to the variety, so if anybody happens to know, I'd be pleased to hear from you.

The early season butterflies have been out in good numbers, particularly orange tips and green-veined whites. A red admiral turned up in the garden this week.

At least one pair of greenfinches seem to have taken up residence in the garden this year too. We have chaffinch every year and bullfinch occasionally but greenfinch are a novelty. Siskin have also turned up this year and there are grey wagtail down by the burn. Wrens also seem to be on the increase and the local greater spotted woodpecker has also been visiting the garden.

For the amateur photographer a woodland summer is so frustrating. The summer visiting birds are all displaying their brightest colours, but the shade and the leaf cover make it so hard to get a good picture!

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

I tolerate, you overlook, he neglects ...

I'm the most tolerant person on Earth.

Except that I can't tolerate intolerance. Lots of social media comments are intolerance disguised as tolerance. And I can't tolerate that either. 

And while we're on the subject I can't tolerate people who can't tolerate people who can't tolerate intolerance. 

And I can't tolerate anyone who can't tolerate my tolerance. 

In fact, when you get right down to it, I'm not only the most tolerant person on Earth, I'm the only tolerant person on Earth. 

The rest of you are just so intolerant I absolutely cannot tolerate you.  

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Spring Forward

I'm told that the depreciation of sterling following the Brexit vote has compelled consumables
manufacturers to make their products smaller in order to avoid putting their prices up. Well, they would say that, wouldn't they? But what, I wonder, is the explanation for years getting shorter? Almost before I'm certain that winter is over the seasonal migrations are under way.

Last week the over-wintering geese of Sliabh Mannan were packing their breeding plumage and heading for their summer nesting grounds in Sweden. Like normal families they set off on the journey arguing with each other about who should lead the way and what direction they should be flying. Down on the ground we humans just look up and wish them bon voyage.

Meanwhile the grey wagtails (above) have been arriving for a couple of weeks along the course of the Culloch Burn and today I saw the first house martin (left) of the season. He's timed it nicely again, because a cloud of midges were out in the sunshine yesterday evening.

However it's early yet for most of the swallow family and I've noted before that a single martin has arrived a week or so in advance. I'm not sure whether he communicates telepathically with the main flock about the climate or whether he's just determined to grab the best nesting site.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Enemies at Home and Friends Abroad

The Steamer Waverley
Setting Sail
One might have hoped the UK's  triggering of  Lisbon Article 50 would at least put a stop to Cassandra-like prophecies of doom at home. Surely the country would come together to make the best of the situation, like it or not?

Too much to hope for, I fear. The Scottish Government still wants to undermine the UK's negotiators with plaintive noises off, while many Remainers seem far more anxious to be proved right than they are for the country's wellbeing.

It might help if Remainers remembered the referendum campaign featured a dodgy prospectus on both sides and that Leavers weren't all ignorant and gullible; in fact we included several high-powered economists. The surging exports and solid economic growth since last June don't really resemble the catastrophe Remainers predicted, nor was a punishment budget required.

Moreover it would make more sense complaining about the Brexiteers' failure to deliver if the Brexiteers actually controlled the government, which they don't.  When did Theresa May promise loads of money for the NHS?

Let us consider the two biggest projects of the EU. (Since we opted out of both of these, we could only ever have been peripheral members henceforward anyway.)
  • The Euro is an economic disaster which can't be admitted because of the political fallout that would result, so they just let it cause thirty percent unemployment and chronic financial crisis in southern Europe instead. If we lived in Greece we might learn what it really means to have something to feel pessimistic about.
  • The Schengen Agreement is collapsing under the weight of uncontrolled migration and frontier fences have gone up all over Eastern Europe.
I have said before that political will is not enough to support a project to link so many economies by a common currency. The fudging of membership criteria did not begin with Greece, it goes right back to the foundation of the single currency when Italy's debt was almost twice the permitted percentage of GDP and France only qualified for the fiscal deficit criterion by a one-off privatisation of Thomson.

The point politicians failed to appreciate then and now is that the Eurozone membership criteria were not mere inconveniences to be circumvented but genuine economic convergence indicators. If you link divergent economies by a single currency you deprive weaker economies of the disequilibrium-corrective possibilities offered by the balance of payments and by currency devaluation, leaving only rising unemployment to provide a quite inadequate escape valve.

This is why it is not just Greece that has experienced severe dislocation but also Cyprus, Italy, Spain, Ireland etc. Even France has suffered. Although Germany has seen benefit from an undervalued currency it is now paying the price in terms of ever-increasing transfers to the hopelessly indebted zone members.

Does anyone really think the EU will return to being an economic powerhouse anytime soon? On the other hand outside the EU we have huge potential to develop new trading relationships with parts of the world that are enjoying rapid growth. The UK is not trying to make enemies or wishing ill to the continuing EU. We are simply seeking a wider circle of friends.

Though peevish voices in Europe may declare the UK must suffer 'pour encourager les autres' it is to be hoped that economic sanity will be allowed to prevail over political pique. Beggar your neighbour is not a good strategy for a continent that needs all the boost from trade it can get. 

And really - can they think of no better arguments for membership of the EU than to show how horrible they can make it for those who want to leave?