Monday 30 June 2014

Chef: Review

It is with some trepidation that I review Chef, because its main character breaks into a volcanic rage provoked by a less than positive review. So let me start by saying I enjoyed this film very much; it has some great laughs, and a sensual love of good food runs through it like a marvellous sauce binding the elements of a dish together. It does have its flaws though, and I am prepared to take the risk that a furious Jon Favreau will show up at my house.

Friday 27 June 2014

Cute Cat Friday 2014-06-27: Belle

Watching from under the wheelbarrow as I try to clear the more Amazonian weeds from the far end of the garden.

Thursday 26 June 2014

Scotland's Vote 5: On Cynicism and Anger

A good friend recently accused me of "petty, cynical, negative sniping" in relation to the independence referendum.

(I really do consider him a good friend, but he is firmly in the Yes camp, and may have been annoyed by my recent criticism of the SNP.)

In the words of George Carlin:
Scratch any cynic and you will find a disappointed idealist.
I believe wholeheartedly in the power of government to make people's lives better. I am glad I live in a country with universal free healthcare and a myriad of other public services, from firefighters to restaurant health inspectors to primary schools. I am perfectly willing to pay my taxes if it means the other human beings around me are treated with a basic level of kindness, fairness and decency.

There's a lot to complain about, and in some ways it's not as good as it used to be; but it's still better than the conditions for the majority of people alive today, or practically anyone a few hundred years ago. I'm very grateful for this. I try not to take it for granted.

Government is not a plaything. It has enormous power for good or ill over all of us, and it has the greatest effect on the most vulnerable. It deserves to be taken seriously.

Friday 20 June 2014

Thursday 19 June 2014

Scotland's Currency 4: The Way Ahead

In Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 I have looked at the SNP's plan for monetary union with the rest of the UK (rUK); its rejection by the other UK political parties; and the political consequences for the referendum vote.

Looking at the bigger picture, what currency options does an independent Scotland have? What are their strengths and weaknesses?

Robert the Bruce had no idea it would come to this.

First, a health warning: I have no formal training or professional experience in economics, international law, or foreign exchange markets. The following is based on research I did for the previous posts, and more general background reading. Anyone who wants an in-depth understanding of this material should go to more authoritative sources, some of which are linked below.

That said, I found this material interesting and often it is not well presented in the media. These are the options as I understand them:

  1. Sterling Area: Full currency union between Scotland and rUK.
  2. Sterlingization: Adopt the rUK pound sterling as the currency of Scotland, without a formal currency union. 
  3. Pound Scots (pegged): Scotland has its own currency, but constrained to a fixed exchange rate with one or more other currencies. 
  4. Pound Scots (floating): Scotland has its own currency, which is allowed to find its own value on the international markets.
  5. The Euro: Scotland joins the 18 existing members of the eurozone.
Let us consider them in greater detail.

Friday 13 June 2014

Cute Cat Friday 2014-06-13: Belle

Belle and her fluffy tail wish you an auspicious Friday the 13th. As the mighty queen of the garden wall she fears no bad luck.

Thursday 12 June 2014

Scotland's Currency 3: Machiavelli's Children

Part 1 of this series covered the SNP plan for a full currency union between an independent Scotland and the rest of the UK (rUK), to be known as the Sterling Area; and its rejection by the main UK political parties. Part 2 discussed the SNP's furious but severely flawed response. I will now look at what this may mean for the independence vote.

Sterling strategy

The strategy of the Yes campaign seems clear.

If the unionist parties had agreed to a Sterling Area, or at least did not oppose it in advance of the referendum vote, all well and good. The SNP could claim Scottish salaries, pensions and bank accounts would operate exactly as before. Scots could spend their money in Berwick or indeed in Cornwall with no additional difficulty, as could English visitors in Edinburgh or Stornoway.

Now that the Sterling Area has been rejected, the fallback position is to claim a grave injustice has been committed by London, and place as much blame as possible on George Osborne personally. Holyrood finance minister John Swinney refers to:
sabre-rattling of recent days by George Osborne and his lieutenant Danny Alexander in the Tory-led Treasury
From a purely cynical point of view, this may be highly effective, but it will incur a cost to the SNP's credibility.

Sunday 8 June 2014

Milestones and thanks

Today I hit a couple of interesting milestones:

  1. My blog received its 1000th page view. I know some would receive this many views before breakfast, but for my personal corner of the internet it feels like a respectable number.
  2. I have been blogging for 100 days. I hadn't realised this until I noticed the hit counter had passed 1000 and worked out how long I had been posting. The blog now has 37 posts, including this one.

Thank you to all of my readers. I hope you enjoy reading this blog as much as I enjoy writing it. I still have plenty to write about, lots of cat photos, and no plans to stop.

Friday 6 June 2014

Cute Cat Friday 2014-06-06: Constantinople Cathedral Cat

Last week I went on holiday to Istanbul, which has a great many street cats. The cat is revered in Islamic tradition, so the locals are good to them. This little black cat was found in a very large structure: Hagia Sophia, first a cathedral completed in 537 AD, later a mosque and now a museum. Its central dome is slightly higher than the US Capitol rotunda. To the cats, it's just a place to hang out and enjoy the admiration of visitors.

Wednesday 4 June 2014

Scotland's Currency 2: Sound and Fury

For an independent Scotland, the SNP favours a currency union with the rest of the UK (rUK), to be known as the Sterling Area. This option has been comprehensively rejected by the unionist political parties. I discussed the economic case for and against a Sterling Area in Part 1; now I will look at the reaction from the SNP.

It is not Scotland's pound

A currency administered by the British Parliament, which
(by definition)  will no longer govern an independent Scotland.

The SNP has asserted Scotland has a right to a currency union, if it wants one. The Holyrood finance minister John Swinney has said:
The pound is Scotland’s currency every bit as much as it is England, Wales and Northern Ireland’s. Becoming an independent country will not change that – Sterling is a jointly shared asset which we are entitled to inherit.
less measured version comes from the senior political commentator Iain Macwhirter:
... one of the partners declared the pound was no longer common property, and could be taken away, without consultation or negotiation, by a Conservative chancellor in an off-hand speech.
If Swinney and his allies mean Scotland has a legal right to impose a currency union on rUK, they are simply wrong. No such legal right exists. If they are asserting some sort of moral right to a shared currency, it is highly questionable at best. The pound is not a shared asset, it is a shared agreement.

If Scotland and rUK are a divorcing couple, currency union is not the balance of their savings account. It is the shared bank account itself. It includes an overdraft facility and a credit rating. There may sometimes be cogent reasons for a divorced couple to keep a joint bank account, but it is certainly not required.

If Scotland became independent, shared assets like the Bank of England's gold reserves could be divided between Scotland and rUK. A currency union is not an asset which can be divided or sold off; it is an ongoing agreement with risks and responsibilities on both sides.

Upon independence, all such agreements are subject to renegotiation. If both parties consent, they may be retained in a revised form; then again, they may not. Neither party can unilaterally declare particular areas to be off limits.

Today, the pound sterling is Scotland's currency. It is administered by the UK Treasury and Bank of England, both of which are ultimately responsible to the British Parliament. On day one of independence, the pound sterling as we knew it would cease to exist, along with the British Parliament's authority over Scotland. The two countries might choose to set up a currency with the same name and similar (but not identical) governance, but this is by no means certain.