THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
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January 2014

Of Bonnie Scotland and her debts

I said I was afraid of how the separation of Scotland from the United Kingdom would be handled by our political leaders. Already the difficulties begin to become clear. As presented by the BBC and other leftish media yesterday, two things happened. Firstly, the money fairies expressed concern about the status of the UK's debts after Scottish independence. Secondly, the UK government assured them it would continue to be liable.

Alex Salmond chortled openly. The UK's negotiators had just weakened their position. Others attempted to explain that the assurances given to creditors did not mean an independent Scotland would walk away from its share of debt, but rather that the share-out of liabilities would have to be structured. This is far too complicated for most observers to grasp and so we are left with the overall impression that "Scot-free" may be a justified slur.

This neatly illustrates the current situation in the independence "debate". The SNP states the benefits of independence (both real and imaginary) almost entirely unchallenged. The Unionists fail to express their positions for fear of antagonising the famously touchy Scottish electorate by appearing to demean or to threaten them.

Because only one part of the Union is being allowed to vote on its future, the continuing UK (cUK) is positioned as a suitor. In such a sitution, you woo with flowers, meals and gifts - not hard explanations of financial reality. Hence the Scots are getting no explanation of the financial consequences of independence, but the likes of Gordon Brown are offering them new gifts to stay. The interests of the majority of citizens of the cUK who want the Scots to go are - it goes without saying - being thoroughly trashed by both sides.

Our creditors are bound to be considering the implications for them of independence, just as they would if a private sector borrower were in the process of dividing its business. If their debtor was a conglomerate, they might ask such questions as "when the Whisky and Tourism division separates from the Finance and Engineering business, will the two parts be new debtors, refinancing the entire debt, or will the smaller business be spun off with new debt raised to pay off a share of the old?" Or "Will the new owners pay a higher price to have the company debt-free so that we can be repaid from the increased equity?" 

Their questions will be similar in the case of the UK's sovereign debt. Uncertainty has a price and I suspect they have told HM Treasury that unless the post separation debt structure is clarified, they will start to charge the UK more today. HMG is constantly borrowing to bridge the deficit between its income and outgoings. The UK's credit rating was already downgraded last year. If lenders are nervous to lend to an entity they know well, imagine their nervousness about major change. 

In an ideal world, the two entitites would walk away with their fair share of the debt by dividing it in the same way they will divide assets. But the creditors will have a say in that. They have no obligation to consent to a division and are entitled to a say on the terms. For example, the BBC (without comment or explanation of the implications) interviewed a fund manager yesterday who stated the blindingly obvious fact that Scotland will have to pay higher interest on its debts. He explained politely that this would reflect its status as "a new borrower". In truth he and his colleagues have every right to be concerned about the prudence of the new government of a nation distinguished by an almost total absence of fiscal conservatives. 

So to achieve a fair result, the UK's sovereign debt will have to be re-structured. I would personally favour a total refinancing, because I would like the cUK to benefit from reduced interest rates. However, the most likely approach is that new debt will have to be issued to an independent Scotland to repay its share of the UK debt. That new debt will be at higher rates and there is nothing in the propaganda published by the SNP to suggest that an independent Scotland's leaders have given any thought as to how to service it. Salmond's stupidly gleeful reaction to the Treasury's statement of the bleeding obvious yesterday rather suggests the contrary.

I have tried to compare the situation with a corporate restructuring but perhaps that's too dry an example? Imagine how rapid a divorce would be if the parties got their decree absolute without first resolving the financial terms. Human nature being what it is, each spouse would imagine a favourable outcome from the negotiation. The spouse with the greater sense of entitled victimhood would be the more disappointed. Fair enough, but imagine how messy the settlement negotiations would be, how long they would last and how acrimonious they would become.

It was an insanely stupid political decision to allow a referendum without first agreeing the terms of independence. I don't fear independence per se - in fact, like most English people, I would welcome it on fair terms - but I fear the consequences of that stupidity for both sides and I don't trust my own leaders not to do something truly insane like guarantee the debts of a new Scotland.

Some social (-networking) resolutions

I started The Last Ditch on March 15, 2005 to make serious points about the threat to liberty posed by a relentlessly-advancing British state. It is intended to be a modest contribution to public discourse and I fail when - as I have often done - I deviate from that intent.

I have therefore resolved that I will no longer whinge, whine or bemoan my fate when the ship of state fails to follow my preferred course. Nor will I insult my fellow-citizens when they either urge the wrong course or trust blindly in the judgement of the metaphorical captain. I will say my piece as best I can and then go about my duties on deck.

I will try to remember that any beneficial effect of my efforts is likely to be distant, indirect and undetectable. Over the Christmas holidays, I mentioned on my personal Facebook page a long-ago remark made by a teacher in my junior high school in North Wales. He is apparently still alive and an old school friend who still lives there has said she will show him what I wrote. I hope it makes him smile and reflect that he must have influenced hundreds of others without ever getting such feedback. 

We are all George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life. We must therefore be careful what influence we have, rather than complain about having too little. Just one person tilted towards liberty by one argument here might, in his or her own influence on the world, justify all the hours "wasted" crafting arguments that failed.

I will strive to avoid becoming a mere observer lest my well of personal experience runs dry. This may seem an exotic danger, but if you walk the streets of London with your eyes open and lifted from your smartphone or tablet, you will be surprised how few people are now fully-present in their surroundings.

I remember, years ago, Mrs P pointing out a couple in a Moscow restaurant. They sat side by side, angled slightly away from each other, each texting someone else. She said (and she was right) that they should really each be out with whomever they were texting as they were clearly not there for each other. I have resolved never again to insult my drinks or dinner companion by drifting off to Twitter or Facebook - or even to read an email alert of a new comment on this blog. If I really need to take a call, I will excuse myself and adjourn - just as I would have had to do in payphone days.

Mrs P. also used to complain about my messing about on my laptop while watching movies with her. Often, gentle readers, I fear I was composing posts to you. I thought about that when Miss P. the Younger and I watched The Bridge together recently. I noticed that both of us (unusually) put our smartphones and tablets aside and were fully, enjoyably, "in the moment". It struck me that part of the attraction of sub-titled Scandi-dramas may be precisely that necessary engagement. You can't follow your Twitter or RSS feeds while half-listening - unless you speak both Swedish and Danish.

Have the writers of Sherlock perhaps also realised they are competing for viewers' full attention? Is that why they express the workings of their hero's remarkable mind with graphics and text on screen? It certainly has the same effect and the show is very popular.

I have resolved that if a TV show or movie can't hold my full attention then it's not worthy of it and I shall do something else that is. And while I will continue to share photos and observations about social events I attend, I will not take any time out from enjoying them to do so. There's plenty of time for that on the tube or bus home afterwards. Jeremy Jacobs has made this particular point more pithily by posting this video at his excellent, thoughtful blog.


If we went to the pub with friends and spent most of our time ignoring them to talk to someone at the next table, that would be obviously rude and they would call us out on it. From now on I am going to try avoid the same discourtesy with people at the next, virtual, table.

238 Years of Common Sense

CommonSenseTitlePage-lgOn January 10, 1776 the great man whose name I misuse on this blog published his famous pamphlet, Common Sense.

It had a powerful effect. General Washington had it distributed to his soldiers. I can imagine them reading it to themselves and to each other. George Trevelyan in his History of the American Revolution wrote

"It would be difficult to name any human composition which has had an effect at once so instant, so extended and so lasting"

That pamphlet is the real inspiration for this blog and the reason I so hubristically use Tom's name. If the internet had existed then, he would probably have blogged it without the aid of Mr R Bell of Philadelphia, especially as being his publisher put Mr Bell at such risk. Tom himself remained safely anonymous at that point.

Common Sense was the pre-digital equivalent of the most successful blog post imaginable. I would be content to have one-millionth part of the good influence on the minds of men it did.

Happy anniversary, Tom.

Met PC's political smear

BBC News - 'Plebgate' affair: Met PC admits misconduct.

I hold no brief for the Conservative & Unionist Party, but I can't help feeling it has been mistreated by its fellow vile socialist front; the BBC. The Beeb pushed the 'plebgate' meme relentlessly. Its squadrons of Marxist comedians used it at enormous length to portray the Conservative Party as condescending snobs.
Now the policeman who made up the damaging story has confessed that it was all lies, the BBC's website reports it blandly as unadorned news, without apologies or corrections for its exuberant exploitation of his crime. Perhaps those will follow? Don't hold your breath.
As a student of the art of loaded language, I find the linked three paragraphs impressive. The damning 'plebgate" handle, now revealed to have been nothing more than a political smear, is the first word in the headline and is repeated for good measure in the first paragraph. Let's not forget to rub in the damaging idea that a Tory cabinet minister called policemen 'plebs' even as we report it was a lie, eh?
As to snobbery and condescension, it is the BBC that talks down to us every single day. Its editorial tone is that of a bossy primary school teacher patiently explaining proper behaviour to badly-brought up children. If anyone sneers at us, it is our state broadcaster. It will re-run HIGNFY and other shows featuring the pleb smear for year after year, while the linked paragraphs will disappear into the obscurest recesses of the web.
Tell me again; why does a free nation need a state broadcaster funded by force?

Some truth about police lies

BBC News - Some truth to claims over crime figures, says Met.

Judging by Chief Inspector Tom Winsor's use of tenses in his remarks reported in the linked article, the Met still hasn't got around to talking to PC Patrick. You will recall PC Patrick was suspended from his work and forbidden to talk to anyone outside the Met after he told a House of Commons committee about widespread manipulation of reported crime data.
One would think the matter more urgent than that. If it was not so important that immediate action was required, why suspend him at all? If it was important, then why did no-one get on with doing something about it?
I can't help but reflect that if he was a private sector employee being paid to do nowt, his bosses would be more anxious to get him either back into production or off the payroll. There seems to be no such anxiety in public services funded by force. Easy come, easy go, as the late Ronnie Biggs might have put it.
More alarming is Tom Winsor's comment below. Bear in mind this man is the Chief Inspector of Constabulary for England & Wales. We are surely entitled to expect the highest standards of probity from such a public servant?
Arguing "it was just human nature" for people in all sorts of organisations to fiddle figures in order to make their performance targets look good, he said he did not believe any "institutional corruption" would be discovered.
"Fiddling figures" is lying. Lying is in most circumstances morally wrong. If other people rely upon the lie to their detriment (e.g. in allocating financial resources, making promotions or paying bonuses) then lying is fraud and that, if the Chief Inspector casts his mind back to his training, is a serious crime.
The Chief Inspector has publicly confessed to widespread criminality in the forces it is his duty to supervise. If he's looking for evidence of "institutional corruption", I suggest he considers that.
What kind of culture do we have in our public services, that so many of our employees seem to think (a) that everyone in the private sector is "on the fiddle", and (b) it's ok for them to have a go too?
Is it too much to infer that Leftist influence in our universities and other institutions where civil servants are trained is so pervasive that they see the entire productive sector as criminals and exploiters?

Down the rabbit hole

Stalking and Harassment: Legal Guidance: Crown Prosecution Service.

I was thinking about the pervasive notion of "offensiveness" in modern Britain and pondering whether there was anything useful I could say about it. I am uncomfortable with the idea that causing offence should ever have any legal consequences.
I grew up believing that a robust public exchange of views was the foundation of a free society. Do I find it offensive that millions should advocate legalised robbery of their fellow citizens so that the proceeds can be applied to purposes they favour? I certainly do. I find it shocking and rather disgusting. But I want the political parties that advocate such violence (Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrat and UKIP) to be free to continue to do so. Do I find it offensive that Muslim preachers advocate violent jihad? Yes I do but not only do I want them to be free to do so, I want the media to liberate them from the Dark Web and give them every possible opportunity to be heard so that all can understand their wickedness.
I grew up in a working class community so perhaps my expectations as to the tone of that public exchange tend to the more robust end of the spectrum. Certainly if I try to explain my concerns in my current milieu, I find polite, middle class people struggling to understand why - in their terms - I would even want to be vulgar. For that's what they seem to hear when I advocate that every citizen should be free to express his opinions, however foul. Free speech is meaningless if you are only free to agree. Let people speak. Let's know what they think. Let's have the chance to engage with them, to reason with them and perhaps even change their mistaken opinions.
Nothing legitimates an opinion more than suppressing it. See, for example, how religions thrive when persecuted. Contrast that with their drift to irrelevance if there is freedom of religious expression.
The notion of "offensiveness" may not have a chilling effect on free speech among those familiar with the new mores, but by definition they are a minority. Not to mention the minority that defined the boundaries of offensiveness to match their own world view. People not acculturated to their ideology now find it hard to know what they may safely write or say. Worse, they find it too much trouble to decide.
Is this perhaps a cause of declining public interest in politics? If you are not a professional politician with a support network, you are quite likely to find yourself in more trouble than the game is worth. No wonder politics has become a geeky backwater, rather than an open public arena.
If, as I do, you follow the left-wing media, you cannot fail to notice a tendency to call political enemies bad names, designed to place them outside the Left's version of polite society. This name-calling is steadily replacing discussion and debate. Criticise a leftist, as I did Peter Tatchell, and you will find their tentacles reaching out to test you for offensive views so that you can be badged and dismissed. There is no need even to acknowledge your opinions, still less to consider their merits. This cannot surely be healthy?
This 'offensiveness' notion tends to encourage a victim mentality. This is very unhealthy, particularly for those defining themselves as victims. There is also the practical concern that since offence may be taken as well as given, it's not really susceptible to the objective tests necessary for good law.
I thought I might expand on this last point; not because it's the most important (principles always matter more) but because it's more likely to persuade the misguided to reconsider. In researching, I found myself falling down a rabbit hole to a leftist wonderland. The linked 'prosecution policy and guidance' from the Crown Prosecution Service on 'stalking and harassment' for example helped me resolve my confusion from reading the actual laws. I thought I must be missing something when I could find no definition of 'harassment' in the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. The guidance notes helpfully state that 
Although harassment is not specifically defined [my emphasis] it can include repeated attempts to impose unwanted communications and contacts upon a victim in a manner that could be expected to cause distress or fear in any reasonable person.
What a wonderful Parliament. It seeks to protect us from an evil it cannot itself define. Its only acknowledgement of the difficulties this might create in practice is to say that a course of conduct that might otherwise amount to harassment will not be unlawful if embarked upon 
for the purpose of preventing or detecting crime
under any enactment or rule of law to comply with any condition or requirement imposed
In short they noticed it was vague and woolly, so they exempted the state and its agents!
I may return to the subject because it is fascinating to see the knots in which our would-be lords and masters have tied themelves in this respect. I suggest you at least read the CPS guidance notes however. They are targeted at police officers and so are not difficult to read. They are also quite shocking.