Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Herald poster

This was posted on in an article in the Herald today. A guy called Brian Harrison from Plymouth and is worth repeating again.

They all talk principle and legalities but this is about power. The UK is an extremely centralised state: power resides at Westminster and no one at Westminster will voluntarily to give any of it away - (Blair was pushed into devolution by the EU). Salmond is also about power and wants to see as much as possible of it at Holyrood. 

For me the key question "is do you think over the last 40 years that Westminster has done well and will continue to do well?" The answer has to be resounding NO for anyone in the UK who does not live in the south east of England and who is not into Great Britain as a world power.

Westminster is incompetent. This incompetence of leadership is clearer the further you get in any direction from London, and wider travel plus the internet have made the comparisons easier to draw. It is not just the scandals like the Iraq war, MP's expenses, News International, the power of unregulated banks, or even the hilariously inconsequential public inquiries ("Carry on, Westminster"): it also shows in the numbers.

Google almost any economic measure - GPD per capita, percentage industrialisation, balance of payments history, balanced budgets, debt levels - and all the North European countries, (except France and Finland on some measures), outperform the UK. The UK's long term economic failure versus its Northern European competitors is being achieved despite reduced union bargaining power, significant privatisation, and it being made easier to sack staff than in any of them, and also despite repeated devaluations (a factor of 5 compared with German currencies of the last 40 years). The UK has had North Sea oil and still achieved a permanent trade deficit: genius.

For most social indicators - life expectancy, obesity, cocaine usage, teenage pregnancy, % GDP spent on Health, % of the population in prison, etc - the UK is nearly always the worst, and the more time you spend in Northern Europe the more you sense this. The internet also reveals that the same is true for less obvious indicators - social mobility, Gini index, percentage of women in positions of power, pay differentials, pension regulation, percentage of youth in training, liveable cities, renewable energy capacity, etc.

With its massive centralisation of power, its secretive ways (look up the McCrone report if you live in Scotland), and its unwritten constitution, Westminster is failing the individual populations of England, Scotland and Wales.

But despite the crowded trains, the cracked pavements and pot holed streets that catch your eye when you return here, Westminster cannot make the comparisons: it thinks in terms of its own importance, total GDP -" we're 6th in the world", rather than that of its citizens, GDP per capita - "we're poorer than everyone in Northern Europe". It is not just Westminster that is dysfunctional, but so is the underpinning "Great British" culture of its political and chattering classes, a culture that is encapsulated in the veneration of the polar explorer Scott, whose men died of starvation and who lost to Amundsen, whose men put on weight. It is not just the endless wrangling of left and right idealogues, any form of drama is more valued than a grasp of the numbers, cooperation and long term thinking. Costly and outdated assumptions are not challenged, as if Britain somehow deserves its UN security council seat, as if it can afford Trident and its military spend, and so, from Suez to Iraq, it is considered normal to indulge in murderous, self important adventures. Most disabling are the myths - Westminster being the mother of parliaments has nothing to learn from other democracies - and distorted narratives of identity - we won WW2 and have little to learn from our neighbours. The arrogance of empire without the fact.

The current British state works well for the metropolitan chattering and political classes, Westminster in short, who even if they do not believe all the myths buy themselves out from sharing the health and education services of their fellow citizens, and who, looking only to the USA, enjoy empire by association; however, for over a generation "Westminster" has failed the test of basic competence, let alone met the aspirations of the governed. Unlike the successfully capitalist countries of Northern Europe, the UK is simply not earning its living in the world. As a result it can afford less and less of the modern goodies, like infrastructure investment, market regulation, targeted welfare and wide access to education and training: this leads to its making worse use of its only asset, its people, who become less resourced, less educated, less numerate, less healthy, less socially mobile, less united in purpose, which in turn leads to less wealth creation, which in turn leads ... etc, etc.

In Scotland the SNP are quite rightly looking to the more successful countries of Northern Europe as their model, because it would be almost impossible to do worse than Westminster, from whom the rest of us should try to remove as much power as possible: if the SNP succeed, we may all benefit.

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