Monthly Archives: July 2014

UK – Not OK!

The recent announcement that the UK economy has grown by 0.8% and has now reached its pre-recession level of output has been greeted with wild enthusiasm by the government and its supporters in the media. But this achievement, welcome though it is, simply confirms the incompetence of Westminster governments. Remember it was Labour under the dismal leadership of Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling which got us into this financial and economic mess in the first place. A crisis which George Osborne and Danny Alexander have mysteriously contrived to make even worse. Hailing 0.8% growth and six wasted years of lost output as some kind of economic master plan is to indulge in the Alice in Wonderland school of economics.

A brief look at the figures shows how poor this so-called achievement really is. First of all, this recovery is two years later than the Chancellor had originally expected. So on this measure this recovery is a failure. A failure by a whopping two years! Secondly, in previous recessions the economy did manage to recover after only two, three or four years. This is the longest period for a recovery since records began. Yet another Westminster failure! Thirdly most of the other large economies managed to come out of this recession earlier than the UK. Only Italy of our major competitors is still lagging behind. Coming second last is not much of a success. Sounds more like another failure to me.

The headline figure that the UK economy is finally back to where it was in 2008 is also very misleading. After all the population of the UK has grown substantially in this period. So, while overall GDP is slightly up on what it was when the recession hit, GDP per capita is not. GDP per capita is still in fact lower than its pre-recession peak. All this population growth has not translated into better economic performance. Another failure?

The per-capita measure of economic output and growth is of course the crucial one for understanding why even this watered down recovery has not meant much for living standards for most of the workforce. In short productivity growth in the UK is conspicuous by its absence. This has been another of the mysteries of this particular long running recession. Employment has recovered and more and more people of working age are gaining employment. But without a corresponding growth in productivity, there is no scope for a boost in earnings. Producing the same level of output with more people can only result in a decline in real wages. During the recession this can be a, relatively, good thing. The costs of the recession are more widely spread. However if this lack of productivity growth continues post-recession, we are in deep trouble. The average UK citizen will be 15-20% poorer forever. And this seems to be the case. Even the Office for Budget Responsibility, which is much lauded by the No campaign, is forecasting this permanent drop in living standards. For a fuller analysis of this problem of lost productivity growth, see this article by Simon Wren-Lewis on his blog, mainly macro. He sums up the issue thus;- “The absence of labour productivity growth is good in the short term, but is potentially disastrous in the long term. The problem is that the absence of growth in labour productivity since the recession is unprecedented: nothing like this has happened in living memory. The reason to be concerned is that the rapid growth in productivity required to catch up the ground already lost is also unprecedented for the UK, which is why most economists assume it will not happen. Which brings me to another puzzle.”

The other puzzle to which Wren-Lewis refers is the apparent lack of interest by the UK government in trying to find out why there has been such a long term absence of productivity growth in the economy. If the UK government has no idea of what has caused this absence, it equally has no idea of how to remedy it. The most disturbing aspect to all this is that it would appear that the UK government has no real interest in the long term prosperity of the UK economy. It is not as if Labour has any alternative vision. Low wages and insecurity for working people while at the same time allow the super rich to get even richer. This is the future that awaits us if we vote to stay in the UK. The UK is not OK and only a Yes vote in September will allow us in Scotland to work towards an alternative – a People’s Scotland.

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Commonwealth Calendar of Independence

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More hypocrisy from the West

The recent murderous events in Ukraine and Palestine offer yet again another example of the West’s addiction to hypocrisy. This time it is so blatant as the two events overlap. The shooting down of the Malaysian airplane over Ukrainian territory with the attendant deaths of all those aboard, has unleashed a veritable frenzy of outrage. Outrage primarily directed against Russia and in particular its President, Vladimir Putin. Some newspapers even went so far as to call Mr Putin a terrorist. All within hours of the shooting. Long before any concrete evidence could possibly have emerged. Now it seems that even the USA intelligence service doesn’t hold Russia or Putin responsible for the shooting. As yet nobody knows fully for sure who did fire the rocket or missile. Probably some pro Russian group of Ukrainians. But we still await concrete evidence. Not that the lack of evidence has ever bothered our media or most of the governments in the West. Any excuse for a bit of Russian baiting is game. Both the USA and the EU have called for further sanctions against Russia. While most of the media remain thralled to painting Russia as an insatiable, militaristic, expansionist enemy. The age old fear of Russia is never far below the surface in the UK.

Contrast this fury and hatred of Russia and its leader Vladimir Putin with the equanimity with which the West continues to treat Israel and its leader, Binyamin Netanyahu. In the case of Israel and it latest, ongoing bloody massacres of Palestinians in Gaza, there is no doubt whatsoever who is to blame. Mr Netanyahu makes no attempt to hide his ownership of the current air and ground assault on Gaza. On the contrary he likes to boast about it. As with previous Israeli assaults on Gaza, this one is as one-sided as the others. Only Israel possesses the military hardware, planes, tanks, missiles and goodness knows what else. All of it the most up-to-date of its kind in the world. Israel also seems to possess unlimited amounts of these lethal weapons. On the other side the poor Palestinians have nothing much more than home made and pretty ineffectual rockets. This of course explains why so many Palestinians have been killed and severely wounded.  Over 650 people have already been killed by the Israeli forces.  The majority of these will be civilians, including too many children. While this time around Israel has also suffered some casualties, 31 at the latest count, all but two were soldiers. So the imbalance in the death toll, not to mention the destruction of buildings, is immense. The usual Israeli excuse that this is an exercise in self-defence is just more propaganda. There were no Israeli deaths in the years prior to the latest Israeli assault. The excessive response with the overwhelming majority of Palestinian deaths civilians makes a mockery of this claim of self-defence. You don’t need to kill hundreds of civilians to protect your country against home made rockets. Even the Americans admit that Israel’s assault is anything but pinpoint.

Yet, despite all this knowledge about who is doing the killing and who ordered this killing spree, the West seems unwilling to do anything about it. Well the general public in most countries is pretty aware of what is going on and has made their disapproval of Israel known through mass demonstrations. However our leaders, especially in the UK and the USA are as wedded to Israel as ever. Israel in their eyes can never do any wrong.  Russia, which was not directly responsible for one terrible action is subject to pillory, sanctions and an arms embargo, However, Israel, which is directly responsible for the ongoing killing and maiming of hundreds and hundreds of civilians is praised. No sanctions, no arms embargo, not even a mild diplomatic rebuke. Little in the past can equal this brutal and pathetic, if not unexpected, confirmation of the moral bankruptcy and hypocrisy at the core of the West. Israel is an uncontrolled war machine, masquerading as a state, a rogue state if ever there was one.  Allowed to unleash its terror on Palestinians solely due to the complicity of the USA and its craven allies in Europe. Now is the time to take a stand for Palestine and the rights of Palestinians for justice.

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A glimpse of normalcy

Back to the world of blogging after a short break which included a lovely holiday in England, the Cotswolds to be precise.  And what a lovely place to be! Apart from the sights to see and the friendly people, one of the great surprises was the complete silence about Scottish independence. This is something I have written about before, here, and it was good to have it confirmed in person. Throughout our week in England I found absolutely nothing in the newspapers or on the TV news about our referendum. What a refreshing experience. There were no scare stories, no disasters awaiting. Perhaps surprisingly there wasn’t even any lovebombing. The reality seems to be that the vast majority of people in England are just not interested in or bothered about Scottish independence. The reshuffle, the heatwave and sport took up just about all the coverage.

It was in a way, a glimpse of what life will be like in an independent Scotland. We will once again become a “normal” country. Just like all the other 50 or so countries in Europe. The constitutional question will have been settled and our focus will return to the key political issues – the economy, taxes, welfare, the health service etc. And of course in all these areas the choices and decisions will be ours. We will no longer be dependent on what the good people of England decide.

There is now just under two months to go till Referendum Day. In Scotland we can expect that the independence question will continue to dominate the media and the airwaves. Most of the facts, to the extent that there are facts, are now out in the public domain. Not that our pro Unionist media has ever made any attempt to inform people of these “facts”. No doubt we will continue to get more unbalanced reporting on these “facts”. What I wonder does the No campaign still have up its sleeve for the last two months? More scare stories? More lovebombing? I cannot imagine it will get any nicer or better. We just have to continue to get out there and carry on with the leafletting and canvassing.

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Brasil 2014 – the demise of the midfield maestro?

The World Cup in Brazil continues to provide us with some great football, entertainment and above all, great excitement. Five of the eight last 16 matches went to extra time and two of these were only decided by a penalty shoot-out. While Colombia comfortably beat Uruguay, the other two 90 minute matches were only won in the final minutes. Breathtaking, edge of your seat stuff, which confirms Brazil 2014 as one of the best World Cups ever.

Now that we have reached the quarter-finals a few tentative conclusions can be raised about the football.  Three developments stand out for me – the demise of the midfield maestro, the rise of the superstar striker and the heroics of some of the goalkeepers.  This has been a high scoring tournament so far, but we could be celebrating even more goals were it not for some truly outstanding goalkeeping performances. With one or two notable exceptions, goalkeepers have excelled themselves in Brazil. In part they have had to, due to the generally poor defensive performances of most teams. Even so, some of the stops have been breathtaking. Both of last night’s matches illustrated this point wonderfully well. Romero in the Argentina goal, almost single handedly kept his team in the competition with some incredible saves. In the other match Tim Howard made an amazing 15 saves for the USA, which helped take the match into extra time and kept everyone on tenterhooks until the final whistle. Other goalkeepers have performed equally well.

However the main development from my point of view has been the demise of the midfield general. The type of player who can control a game by his vision, passing and reading of the play. Players such as Xavi Hernández and Andrés Iniesta of Spain and Andrea Pirlo of Italy are three of the greatest of this kind of midfield maestro. Their influence on matches goes a long way to explain why Spain won the World Cup in 2010 and Italy in 2006. Not this time though, as both Italy and Spain tumbled out of the tournament at the first hurdle. It is not that there are no first class midfield players around. Oscar from Brazil, Kroos from Germany, Sneider from the Netherlands and Pogba from France have all demonstrated great skill. Yet none of them has dominated a game in the way that Xavi and previously Pirlo were able to do.

On the whole the current generation of midfielders are more physical than their predecessors. The recent relative decline of FC Barcelona has been a harbinger of this development. The most successful teams, both at club level and at national level, try to move the ball as swiftly as possible from defence to attack. Often this is done by bypassing the midfield altogether. A long ball out wide to an attacking player has been one of the features of this tournament. The other notable feature has been the willingness of midfielders to run at the opposition and either force a way through or at least unsettle them and open up space for a rebound. All the teams left in the World Cup play more or less in a similar way. We seem to be returning to a more direct, running style of football.

Another feature of this World Cup is what might be termed the rise of the superstar striker. This development could with equal justice be described as dependency on a single, outstanding player. Both Portugal and Uruguay for example rely heavily on Ronaldo and Suárez respectively for goals and inspiration. it is very similar with at least three of the surviving teams to make the quarter-finals. Without Messi, Neymar or Robben it is hard to see how Argentina, Brazil or the Netherlands could have made it so far. All three teams seem to be excessively dependent on their superstar to score the goals as well as make them for others. James Rodríguez of Colombia may fall into this category. I haven’t seen enough of Colombia’s games to judge, but he certainly scores most of their goals.

It will be fascinating to see if one of these superstars can lead and inspire their team to the trophy. It has happened before. Argentina with Maradona in 1986, France with Zidane in 1998 and Brazil with Ronaldo in 2002 are recent examples where the winners were heavily, if not totally dependent on one exceptionally gifted player. However on the whole the winning team has tended to be a team with a more balanced squad. Neither Italy in 2006 nor Spain in 2010 had particularly gifted strikers. They did have well organized and balanced teams from defence forwards. France, Germany and Belgium are the teams which most fit this particular bill. Pretty strong all round with no dependency on any one player. Place your bets!  Whatever the outcome, the World Cup just promises to get better and better.

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