Northern ireland, a radical post-Brexit fix

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Brexit now threatens much uncertainty as regards Northern Ireland. As one of the most deprived parts of the UK, sharing a direct land border with the eurozone, it will likely bare the brunt of any post-Brexit downturn. Already a legal challenge against Brexit has been launched by a cross party group. There’s even stories of unionists applying for Irish passports south of the border.

Inevitably this means the possibility of Irish reunification has come back on the agenda. There is an absence of reliable polling data, but one poll from the Belfast Telegraph suggested a significant lead for a united Ireland (this must be put in context, not as reliable as a regular poll and similar polls showing a very strong lead to Scottish independence that has now slipped somewhat). But certainly, it seems there has been a significant move in public opinion since Brexit (which has previously show a 60/40 split against a united Ireland). A united Ireland is now no longer just some sort of Sinn Fein fantasy.

And Scottish independence would complicate matters further. Consider that if Scotland breaks away it will be only be possible to travel from the North to the rUK via a foreign country (e.g. via Scotland or via the Republic). Northern Ireland will essentially become an overseas territory of the (former) United Kingdom, surrounded by the EU. It short I would argue that in much the same way that Brexit makes Scottish independence more likely, Brexit and Scottish independence makes a united Ireland more likely (if not an inevitability). Of course this will likely go down like a lead balloon in many loyalist strongholds in the North.

It is in situations like this that a radical solution is required. So what I would propose is that, in the case of Scottish independence, there should be a referendum in Northern Ireland, not on re-unification but instead on changing the terms of the act of Union by which Northern Ireland would enter into a union with Scotland. In essence NI would recognise Scotland as the successor state to the UK, rather than England.

This would offer several benefits from a unionist prospective. They would still have the queen as head of state, they would still be part of the commonwealth and NATO. They would also get to keep the pound (although it would now likely be the Scottish pound). On the other hand, Irish republicans would likely find the government in Edinburgh a good deal less antagonistic a partner than Westminster.

Indeed I suspect the strongest objections to such a proposal would come from the republicans. There’s an old republican saying that goes “England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity”. Or to put that in slightly less diplomatic terms, the Brits have a habit of screwing up and its usually Toff’s in London playing games of empire who are to blame. If the Scot’s don’t antagonise either the catholic or unionist communities, they avoid dragging the North into the various wars of empire like London did (which of course led directly to Irish independence, as well as American independence and most of the rest of their empire breaking up too), then this new union becomes likely to be the default end state. In short, Irish unification becomes a lot less likely if Northern Ireland was in a union with Scotland rather than England.

Will such a deal happen? Probably not. In much of the same way that one of the SNP’s best allies is the Tory party, one of the Irish nationalists best allies is the ulster unionists. Their closed minds doesn’t leave room for much in the way of radical ideas or compromise. I mean a lot of them voted for Brexit, despite the fact that this was pretty much a case of Turkey’s voting for Christmas. And some are (as noted) ignoring the glaring hypocrisy and quietly applying for an Irish passport.

So my guess is the unionist will refuse to compromise. They’ll find themselves facing a declining economy, overrun by refugees (with both NI’s borders controlled by foreign states it will be all but impossible to limit or deport migrants and refugees, something that will be quickly exploited by the next wave of migrants). Support for reunification will steadily grow, until eventually it gets enough support and passes. But let it be said, that there is an alternative. The question is will they take it?

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The cult of Trump’s threat to American democracy

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One of the problems with a cult of personality, much like the one growing around Trump (which appears to be in the process of merging with the cult of the Farage), is how any statement from the dear leader can be escalated to a whole new level by his accolades.

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For example, Trump has long claimed at his rallies that he’s way ahead in the polls, even though the evidence points to the opposite being true. While he had a slight bounce after his convention (keep in mind the Bernie brigade were still in rebellion at the DNC at the same time), but since then his numbers have been in freefall. He’s also suggested that if he loses, it means the election is rigged.

Now its quite obvious what’s going on here, Trump is an egomaniac, he’s falling for the so-called crowd effect (he’s popular at his rallies, i.e. among the people who showed up to see him). Terrified of being branded a loser, he’s setting it up so that he can avoid that label by making excuses, ignoring the consequences for the country.

And of course this “grand pollster conspiracy” is just ridiculous. Why would pollsters, some of whom work for right wing think tanks, throw in with Hillary? And won’t it make sense for them to do the opposite? i.e. show Hillary as having a smaller lead. If Hillary does have a big lead, it suggests many in those in the anti-Trump brigade who also dislike Hillary, can safely vote for a third party candidate and Hillary will still win. So we must assume that there’s a massive conspiracy afoot whose goal is to jeopardise Hillary’s campaign just so they can hurt Trump’s feelings and offend his over inflated ego.

Certainly pollsters are open to the idea that they may be underestimating Trump’s level of support. But they are more convinced that if anything the opposite is likely to be true . Republicans have been doing very badly in recent elections with key demographics, ethnic minorities, women, younger voters, etc. However, Trump is doing exceptionally badly, he’s polling as low as 12-2% with some ethnic minorities and he has to content with a large “anyone but Trump” movement within his own party. Consider that he’s now even losing out to Hillary now among college educated whites (Romney won in this category….and still lost to Obama!). As a result its more likely that the pollsters are actually underestimating Hillary’s lead than overestimating it.

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And while there’s been a slight tightening of the race recently, in the key swing states, Hillary is still well ahead. Indeed, adding up all the states expected to vote democrat in November Hillary already has the 270 electoral college votes she’ll need. And of the states on the margins (e.g. Florida and Ohio) she has a clear lead. While its a bit early to declare the race over, but the odds are clearly in Hillary’s favour.

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US electoral College Map, 23rd of August 2016

Despite all of this its quite obvious that Trump and his inner circle exist in an echo chamber of self delusion, something which has led to some awkward moments with the media when they are confronted by this pesky thing called “reality”. But regardless of the facts, Trump’s comments have been taken up by his eager brown shirts (notably Alex Jones), who have decided to basically go off and invent polls showing him aheadeven in California! Trump’s also trying to create his own army of “election observers”, who will no doubt show up with their 45’s to see if they can intimidate ethnic minorities from voting.

In short he’s more or less guaranteeing violence either on election day, if not immediately afterwards, all for the sake of protecting his own fragile ego. The damage that he could well do to America, for petty narcissistic reasons is considerable.

Aviation: the green stuff – coming soon to an airfield near you

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Solar Impulse recently completed the first ever circumnavigation using a solar powered aircraft. So it might be an appropriate time to review the options as regards alternative fuelled aircraft.

solar-impulse-2-landing Figure 1: Solar Impulse 2 completes its final landing

A long standing assumption of many has been that given the very high rates of energy consumption by aircraft and the heavy dependency of aviation on fossil fuels, once oil supplies peaked (or we were forced to curb consumption to fight climate change) this would mean the end of commercial aviation as we know it. No more cheap flights, no more holidays in the sun, the world would suddenly become a much larger place. However its possible that this may not be the case. The technology of Solar Impulse 2 hints at a range of possible solutions that are either in the works or already exist.

The eternal plane

Firstly the concept…

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Non Rio news

Brexit guarantee

Reacting to the wide scale dismay over possible funding cuts, the UK government has committed about £6 billion a year to guarantee post-EU funding in areas such as farming and scientific research. But critics argue it doesn’t go far enough. Indeed, I would argue its very worrying as it suggests the government simply does not get the message.

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The UK receives billions in research funding from the EU

Take research funding. A clause in the government guarantee implies it only applies to research funding contracts signed before the autumn statement comes out. Given that many of those grants went in the bin on the 24th of June it is highly unlikely they could be resurrected between now and then. That’s not how academia works.

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For UK farmers subsidies are their main source of income

I’ve been quite busy the last week with resit exam marking, I’ve got viva resits coming up and the start of term. It would be mid-October before I or anyone else in academia could get around a table. And it would then take a few weeks or months for the EU to then okay everything. Keep in mind most of the EU research at risk involves collaborative research projects, across multiple states, so even with Brexit it will involve the EU. And typically the EU will only provide a portion of the funds, we then source the rest from private industry. Naturally the private sector, worried about the economic impact of Brexit might still say no.

And what about freedom of movement? A leave supporting MP only recently realised Brexit might leave EU citizens in limbo, nah you think! If I need to recruit a PhD student or a Research Assistant with a specific and narrow set of skills, its questionable if I can do that if I’m only restricted to the UK. Any doubt about my ability to recruit and the other partners (public and private) in the EU will still be asking me to take my name off the application. The fact that the government doesn’t realise any of this just shows you how out of touch they are.

More importantly this announcement more or less confirms what I’d warned before the referendum. That you can forget about that £350 million a month. The UK will still need to pay the EU for access to the single market. Keep in mind Norway pays something like 90% per capita of what they UK pays, we’ll suffer the drop in tax revenue that comes with leaving the EU (due to reduced trade) and we have to come up with several billion more a year extra too.

In short the UK is already worse off and we’ve not even got to the tricky parts of the negotiations yet (where we have to agree to call Cheddar “reconstituted lard” and English wine as “Du Vin Roast beef”).

China warns the UK over Hinkley C

The Chinese have issued a strongly worded warning to the UK over the threat to the Hinkley C deal. As always, this goes way beyond a simple nuclear power plant. It shows what sort of pressures the UK will face post-Brexit.

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China unveil’s its prototype reactor at Hinkley point

Leave campaigners, will argue that they can get a trade deal quicker off other countries than the EU can, which often takes years or decades to negotiate a deal. This is true, in much the same way I could buy a car tomorrow in ten minutes flat….if I didn’t mind going to a dodgy Arthur Daley type and taking whatever cut and shut banger he offered! Getting a good deal means haggling and much arm twisting. The EU can do this because they are one of the world’s largest collective economy’s. The UK can’t because the Chinese (or US) will have the UK over a barrel. Its their way or the highway.

Hence, I suspect Hinkley C will still go ahead, regardless. Its an offer the British can’t refuse.

Leave turf war

Speaking of international trade, there’s a bit of a turf war going on between Boris Johnson and Liam Fox. Both argue that they are entitled to negotiate future international trade agreements. I’m wondering if Theresa May has, rather ghoulishly, taken a leaf out of Hitler’s book. In that he would often put people he didn’t like in departments with overlapping responsibilities and then sit back and watch them squabble.

In short one has to wonder if a number of the Brexiter’s are being set up to fail. Hence when the article 50 business is kicked into the long grass and ignored until after the next election, nobody can complain, and its the Brexit camp who will get the blame.

Norwegian…based in Ireland?

I travelled to Scandinavia over the summer. One thing that I found surprising to learn that the budget airline Norwegian is flagged in Ireland. Why? Well simple, because Ireland is in the EU. Norwegian has big plans to expand across the Atlantic and they know how protective the US is of its businesses (land of the free…but only if you contribute to my congressional campaign!).

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Norwegian Airlines…..flagged in Ireland

Indeed the Americans have raised concerns about how European budget airlines operate. Its also alleged that Norwegian plan on using air crews hired in from Asia for its Transatlantic operations. While I would tend to agree, budget airlines are pushing things a bit too far, but this is clearly a case of the pot calling the kettle black. American airlines have become notorious for squeezing the margins and pushing their pilots way too hard. There have in fact been several air crashes in the US that are blamed on pilot fatique.

So the reality is, all of this is just excuses, because the Americans realise that Norwegian is the thin end of the wedge. What they really fear is Ryanair bringing its not inconsiderable network and low cost model across the Atlantic (they have plans to do so, although they are currently on hold) and driving their airlines out of business. Who knows, if Michael O’Leary has his way, American cabin crew might have to stop being so rude and bossy to passengers!

But obviously the point is that if Norwegian wasn’t based in the EU, the Americans would have just told them to hit the road. But because they are based in an EU country, they have to at least negotiate. This explains the dilemma faced by Easyjet. Its probable that Ryanair will follow Norwegian and expand into the US market. Easyjet will face the choice of being a short haul British based company (hoping that any restrictions on migrant and travel doesn’t mean a dwindling market share). Or leave the UK, likely register in Ireland themselves, and become an international airline.

Yes, Ireland a nation of 4.5 million could well have more airlines in a few years time than the UK a nation 11 times larger! All thanks to Brexit.

When the generations fall out

An interesting article I came across regarding baby boomers, from another blogger. They enjoy a remarkably good deal. Many managed to buy a large house before such things became expensive, they’ve retired on a final salary pension in their 60’s, when most younger generations (or the generation before them) retired on a less generous settlement later….if at all! And a triple lock on their pensions, plus the ring fencing of certain elements of the NHS budget means they’ve been spared the harsh austerity the rest of society has had to endure.

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And to cap it all we have the Brexit vote, where baby boomers overwhelmingly voted to leave, a final two fingered salute to succeeding generations. Indeed, its worth noting that baby boomers are also the worst generation for environmental damage and the most likely generation to be climate change deniers…..and likely to be Trump voters.

In short, there’s a very serious risk of the generations falling out. Many of those flocking to labour and Corybn are young (and angry) millennials. While its unlikely they will win this time around, as the baby boomers die off, its inevitable that the younger generations will gain control and suffice to say there will be a day of reckoning.

Recall, as I pointed out in a prior article Brexit does complicate matters as far as national debt. Any default or “haircut” on national debts will hit pensioners, baby boomers in particular very hard. Many could see their income wiped out. The chances that the millennials will see their incomes squeezed yet further to pay off these debts (run up paying for baby boomers cosy life style and a failure of past governments to tax baby boomers more while they were working), after this generational betrayal, its slim to none.

Italian banks

And speaking of which, the trigger event for a sequence of sovereign debt defaults could be about to strike. There’s been further concerns expressed about the health of Italian banks. Italy is at risk of economic turmoil if a referendum goes against the government.

Now any Brexiters who feel smug and say this is why we need to get out of the EU, well no. The entire global economy is interconnected. If Italian banks go down and risk bringing down Italy, the impact will be felt worldwide. And its pensions and savers in the UK who will have to take a hit.

Ultimately, the world’s governments will face a difficult choice, bailout Italy (not an easy thing), or risk a contagion of debt spreading through the whole economy. A default of Italy would of course leave investors worrying about who is next and whether “safe as the bank of England” is really that safe. Which could make things very difficult for governments dependant on credit (such as the UK).

First contact?

Another interesting story revolves around a mystery object exo-planet hunters have discovered. They’ve concluded there’s something odd about a star some 1,000 light years from Earth. Some are arguing that it could be signs of an alien mega structure known as a Dyson’s Swarm. While unlikely, the very fact its being seriously considered is of interest (no scientists wants to be a member of the “I saw a flare” club, so they won’t announce this unless they’ve evidence to back that up). Its good to know there might be intelligent life in the universe…because there’s bugger all down her on Earth!

Trump’s minions

How can you not mention Trump, he’s like a sort of virus. However its more his minions that I want to talk about. Being a spokesman for the cult of Trump has got to be a pretty awful job (worth seeing Trevor Noah’s take on this here). Your boss says the most insane batshit crazy stuff, you have to try and row back on it, no he didn’t say that…..okay he did (after being confronted with a video of him saying it), but that’s not what he was trying to say….Only, for Trump to come out and reverse course again two minutes later. Its likely he’s killed the career of Rudy Giuliani, Chris Christie and Newt Gingrich.

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However, another tactic of Trump’s minions is to try and out Trump Trump. Take his chief Spokesperson Katrina Pierson. She’s an ex-Tea party candidate who proved to be a little too crazy even for the tea party (she’s wears a necklace….made from bullets!). She’s regularly gone beyond Trump in craziness, recently blaming the US invasion of Afghanistan on Obama (leaving TV journalists speechless). When the insanity of what she was suggesting was pointed out, she tried to blame her microphone (an excuse both she and Trump have used in the past…perhaps we should start a kickstarter fund for her and Trump to buy a hearing aid?).

And Trump has recently announced changes to his campaign team. His campaign chief Paul Manafort, under pressure over payments to him linked to Putin, has been pushed aside. Instead Trump’s brought in the boss of Breitbart (a man referred too as “the most dangerous political operator in America”) and allegedly also ex-Fox News chief Roger Ailes. Which incidentally does raise some awkward questions as to what was going on over at Fox News during that whole Trump v’s Megyn Kelly saga (keeping in mind, Ailes was Meygn’s boss).

One has to worry what sort of fruitcake’s Trump will dig up to form his cabinet, in the increasingly unlikely event of him being elected. Its no wonder some are arguing that Trump doesn’t actually want to be president, he only did it to further his TV career and is now deliberately sabotaging his own campaign.

Let me draw you a picture

One of the problems with climate change deniers is that they will waffle along, making spurious contrarian claims at such a rate one can’t debunk them all, or quote misleading information (often doctored or deliberately misinterpreted). In a recent debate in Australia Brian Cox managed to outwit climate denier and member of the neo-fascist “One Nation”, Malcolm Roberts, by bringing along a graph of the data that he claimed didn’t exist.

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Naturally this led Mr denier to claim the data, collected by NASA, was “doctored”, leading Brian Cox to question Roberts whether he also believed NASA hadn’t landed on the moon. While this might seem a bit of an unfair jibe, but as I’ve pointed out before the idea that dozens of agencies around the world, universities, NASA, ESA, the Met Office, the Tyndall centre, Scripp’s institute, the US military, etc. could all independently conduct studies (often relying on different data sets gathered in different ways) and reach the same conclusion. This leaves one only one of two alternatives, a) the evidence supporting climate change is rock solid, or b) all of these agencies worldwide are engaged in one massive global conspiracy, that makes faking the moon landing seem simple. So if you believe the climate data is doctored, then it is legitimate to question whether said individual is a tinfoil hat wearing conspiracy theorist.

Also deniers need to realise that they’ve been “found out”. The website “Skepticalscience.com” now has an easy to browse list of many prominent climate contrarians, listing their favoured climate myth and the information to debunk them. They also have a complete list of all climate denier myths along with the counter arguments, filed at a range of different levels (e.g. a simple quick explanation, or the hard scientific one). So in truth all you need to do to combat a climate denier these days is have a smart phone or I-pad and this website open on it.

Rio News

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The Rio games, being held in a country still reeling from a defacto coup (by neo-liberals against a left wing President) and a depressed economy, isn’t quite going according to plan. From the diving pools turning green, sinks falling apart in the Olympic village, traffic and transport problems (they bused people from one venue to a metro station, only for it to shut by the time spectators arrived trapping them in the middle of no where!), etc. At least nobody’s come down with Zika thought…..yet!

And of course there’s also been several controversy’s about the running of the games. The road during the cycling proved to be dangerously slippy, doubly so when it started raining. One of the athletic heats had to be re-run (due to heavy rain, it was obvious that the initial run should have been called off). And more recently there have been some questionable disqualifications in both the men’s and women’s 10 km swim.

And of course this all before we talk about arguably the two major issues, the Russians and many empty seats. We’ll talk about the seats first. While the Rio organisers have tried to put a brave face on it, claiming the bulk of tickets were “sold”, anyone with a pair of eyes will have seen the large blocks of empty seats, even for events like the 100m final or the finals of the swimming events.

Now the IOC will probably argue that they are trying to introduce new sports to a different part of the world, there’s never been an Olympics in South America. However, I would question how it was that they could not do something, e.g. give tickets away to the sporting federations for these individual sports. Alternatively, just lower ticket prices to make them affordable to anyone, even if you have to charge just a penny (Ryanair style pricing), perhaps even give them away for free. Or maybe they fear the boys from the Favela’s getting in and holding up a medal ceremony!

One suspects the bulk of those empty seats are in fact corporate allocations . However, scared of the high crime rates and Zika, the hob nober set got given tickets, but then decided not to show up. In truth what these empty seats expose is how the decision to award the Olympics to Rio was a decision made in smoke filled rooms, with the aid of brown envelopes. It was never about the sport, no more than letting the Russians compete was about doping, but about politics and privilege. An opportunity for the elites to show off….and make a bit of money during the building of facilities (that will likely be empty and derelict in a few months time).

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There are many theories about the Green pool. Mine is that one of the Russians just dropped their drugs in it. Of all the Russians to participate none was more controversial than Yulia Efimova (previously convicted of doping, recall that the Russian whistle blower was denied the opportunity to compete for this very reason). Her excuse? Oh why Michael Phelp’s has been caught taking drugs too. Which is true, he did once indulge in some hash (outside of competition)…..a known performance dis-enhancing drug.

Personally, I think any athlete who wins more than 4 medals should be required to smoke a spliff before competing in any event, to give the other athletes a chance! It would certainly make things interesting…..particularly when you consider what would happen in the dressage!

If there’s any group of Russians who we can be sure aren’t doping its their divers….who managed to both get zeromaybe they found Phelp’s secret stash? Jokes aside tho, if anyone thinks that doping begins and ends with the Russians, you are very naïve. And while I hate to be a party pooper, but of the events the UK is currently doing well in, rowing, cycling, the power events, these have been the very sports rife with doping in the past.

It worth keeping in mind that the amount a gold medal winning athlete can make is not small, there’s few gold medallists who won’t be millionaires (if they aren’t already) through prize money and product endorsements. With that much money at stake, not only is it no surprise that doping is going on, athletes should be practically throwing themselves over the line…..and funnily enough the 400m women’s race was won by an athlete diving across the line. And a little earlier another athlete qualified for the next round of an event by also throwing himself over the finish line.

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I’ve seen this happen often enough at athletic events over the years, to believe its not a coincidence, its an attempt to gain unsportsman like advantage, while remaining within the letter of the law. And one has to note that if this is what’s going on its very dangerous. Runners can be going 30-40 kmph by the time they finish, crashing to the ground at those speeds is risky (I know cyclists who’ve ended up in hospital after falling at half that speed….and they had a helmet on!). Its just a matter of time before someone tries this and winds up splitting their skull open in front of a live TV audience.

So there is a need I’d argue for a rule change. That an athlete must be on their feet when they cross the line. There is a precedence here, many sports ban certain manoeuvres that could be dangerous (e.g. certain types of moves are banned in the fighting events as they could result in serious injury). In horse racing, the result is only considered official if the rider is still on the horse when it crosses the line. So a simple rule change would nip this trend in the bud.

The libertarian challenge to Trump

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Trump is getting a drubbing in the polls, he’s now trailing Hillary by anything from 6% to 15%, he’s behind in all of the swing states, indeed he’s even now behind in Georgia a normally safe Republican state.

Indeed, I would argue that Trump’s latest headache (implying that gun nuts should shoot at Hillary) was triggered by a ham-fisted attempt by Trump to shore up support with conservative voters. Yes, Trump is in so much trouble he’s having to campaign to hold onto normally safe Republican states.

So in part Trump’s predicament is due to self inflicted wounds. But it is also due to Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, who is running at +8% in the polls, as high as 15% in some normally safe Republican states. And Johnson has been capitalising on Trump’s blunders, picking up endorsements from Republican members of Congress. There is talk that Johnson may now well represent a genuine third party challenge in this campaign, which could be as much a headache for Clinton as it is for Trump.

But in a close election, the polls do tend to narrow close to election day. The nature of America’s flawed two party system means its often a choice between twiddledum and twiddledee. This time however, I would argue that as far as any moderate Republican is concerned, certainly for anyone with libertarian sympathies, its no contest.

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Trump is promoting a racist, neo-fascist agenda, one that is so authoritarian they even want to ban porn. And of course restricting immigration to the degree he proposes is very much “central planning“, where some bureaucrat sitting in a government office decides whether an employer will be able to hire the staff he needs to stay in business. In short, he’s probably the most libertarian unfriendly candidate the GOP has fielded in a long time.

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Also, the GOP have developed a nasty tendency to talk the talk on national debt and the deficit, but not walk the walk. All three of their most recent president’s ran up huge deficits, while Hillary’s husband ran a surplus. There is a need for conservatives who take this issue seriously to force the Republican party to nail its colours to the mast. Are they still the party of prudent finances and small government? Because all the indications are that Trump would take a wrecking ball to public finances. The latest estimate is he’ll blow a $9.5 trillion hole in US government finances, most of which will probably have to be borrowed.

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In short, any libertarian, forced to choose between Hillary and Trump would have to tick the box next to Hillary’s name once you go issue by issue through Trump’s recent statements. However, I understand the reluctance of Republicans to do that (I’m not exactly a fan of hers either), so my advice would be, if you can’t bring yourself to vote Hillary then vote for Gary Johnson. And here’s why….

In a tight race, if Johnson is sitting on a high enough level of support, enough to swing the election, for a brief period in late October he’ll be the most powerful person in the country, the defacto kingmaker. He could do a deal with Hillary, she takes on some of his manifesto commitments (e.g. she agrees to not spend recklessly but work towards eliminating the deficit), or maybe she agrees to appoint a member of the libertarian party to a senior cabinet post. In return Gary Johnson endorses Hillary in several key swing states, but urges his supporters to vote for him everywhere else, so they can hold her feet to the fire afterwards. In the space of one phone call, Gary Johnson will have done more to reign in the democrats on many core conservative issues than the Republican controlled Congress has achieved over the last 8 years.

Now okay, any deal between Hillary and Johnson does seem unlikely (current polls suggest she probably won’t need his support to win), although not as unlikely as one between him and Trump (much of Johnson’s support are in the anyone but Trump camp who wouldn’t vote for him if you dragged them to the polls by wild horses), or as unlikely as a deal between Hillary and Green party candidate Jill Stein (she’s had a bounce thanks to disenfranchised Bernie supporters). But my point is that conservatives could achieve more by supporting Johnson than Trump. Not least because we need to consider what happens after the election.

Let’s be realistic – Hillary is probably going to win. Nevermind the current polls, demographics have been working against the Republicans for some time now. In 1980 Reagan won 56% of white voters and won by a landslide, in 2012 Romney won 59% of the same voters and lost decisively. And while Romney was polling 47% of hispanic voters (Bush won with 44% of the same group) Trump is polling less than 12%. He’s doing badly with women too…..and likely with military veterans now also! Even if the polls showed him neck and neck with Hillary, the odds are, once we factor in the above demographics, she’d still be expected to win. Unless he’s well ahead by election day, he’s got no chance.

To my mind the question conservatives need to ask is not, how do we stop Hillary? (go back in time and elect someone other than Trump as your nominee!). But how do they save the GOP from a complete collapse afterwards.

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In the wake of Trump’s likely defeat, various factions will struggle for control of the GOP, the white supremacist (now firmly out of the closet thanks to Trump), the religious right (ditto!), the establishment, etc. A strong showing by Gary Johnson means that fiscal conservatives can point to his success as indicating that what people want is a GOP that returns to its roots as a party, not of racist bigots, religious bible thumper’s or corporate suck ups, but one advocating small government and balanced budgets.

And if the GOP fails to get this message, if one of the other factions takes over the party, the libertarian party will be well placed to capitalise and assume the mantle of the leading party of the right. Consider that if Johnson manages to hold his current lead (or indeed just get more than 5%) then next election he’ll gain access to federal funding, he’ll be on the ballot in all 50 states and he’ll be all but guaranteed a seat at the 2020 debates.

On the topic of the debates incidentally, there are some arguing for Johnson to be included in the debates this time around. I would agree, but equally I’d argue it would only be fair to include Jill Stein as well. In fact what I’d like to see is a 4 person debate followed up by a series of one on one debates, e.g. Trump v’s Hillary, Trump v’s Johnson, Stein v’s Hillary, etc. This would give everyone a fair chance to set up their stall.

But I digress. For it also has to be said that this election represents a historic opportunity for the libertarians. I’ve long heard them propose that the majority of Americans want small government, despite constant evidence to the contrary, e.g. polls showing the majority of Americans (in particular Republicans) hold authoritarian views, or election results where parties who cut back on public services or try to balance the books are punished in the polls.

To be blunt, if the libertarians can’t make a descent showing this year, then they may as well pack up and go home. Because what a poor showing from Johnson this year will prove is the reality that, yes some Americans like to fantasise about small government and low tax, but when push comes to shove, they’ll cling for the security blanket of big government.

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In summary, if you hold vaguely conservative views, you really do have to have a good long think about whether you really want to vote for Trump (for all the reasons Clint Eastwood seemed to ignore). Such tribal politics of voting for which ever lunatic the GOP nominates will be the death of the party. Hillary is clearly the lesser of two evils, even when you look at her through conservative eyes.

But if you can bring yourself to do that, then consider voting for a third party candidate, notably Gary Johnson. Voting for Johnson might not change the outcome of this election, but it might well have a big impact on the next one, as well as setting a tone for Clinton’s presidency.

The future of work

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Many from working class areas of Britain voted for Brexit because they fear their jobs are under threat from migrants. Similarly support for Trump has been growing in parts of the US rust belt. And there’s a major divide, both sides of the Atlantic, when it comes to education. If you have a college degree, you are very unlikely to be a Trump supporter and less likely to have voted leave.

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Now it has to be said that the argument that migrants are taking jobs isn’t backed up by the facts. A strong leave vote was seen in the parts of the UK with the lowest number of migrants, while places like London with very high rates of migrant tended to vote for remain. Similarly, major US cities, where migrants tend to concentrated tend not to be the places where there is strong support for Trump. So either these migrants are holding down three of four jobs (and presumably being rapist, drug dealers and claiming benefits in whatever limited free time this busy schedule allows them), or the risk they pose is being vastly overestimated.

When I hear the story about how, oh I can’t get a job because the company down the road just hired a load of Poles/Mexicans who will work 60 hours a week for 3 bucks an hour, my response is A) don’t you think you should report that to the proper authorities? because its kind of illegal! B) leaving the EU ain’t going to help, you do realise Switzerland and Norway have more migrants per capita than the UK? C) In a globalised world, restricting the movement of labour will result in jobs moving overseas, so its foreigners staying at home and taking your job we need to worry about (far more jobs have moved overseas than have been taken by foreigners moving here) and D) do you have these guys number? cos I’ve got this bit of decking…..

But there’s an elephant in the room here that I think both sides of the debate are missing – automation and technology. In short, even if it were true that you’re in competition with Poles or Mexicans working for £3 a hour (which you aren’t, its just a neo-fascist myth), how do you expect to keep your job when you are competing against a machine that will do the job 24/7 for nothing?

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Like the frog in the saucepan, technology has crept up on us and we’ve not noticed. And yes it is changing the workplace as we know it . Think about it, when was the last time you rented a video? I’m guessing you get your video fixes from youtube or netflix these days? In fact when was the last time you saw a video store? Are there any young people reading this who need me to explain what a video store is? How about booking a holiday or flight in a travel agent? And I mean in an actual office, not online? Same with car insurance or other financial products. What about paying your taxes online? don’t tell me you actually take a day off work so you can go down the tax office and do in manually (obviously you’ve way too much free time!).

Online shopping is now much more common. And in shops these days various tasks are becoming more and more automated. We have those self service checkouts. Its conceivable in the not too distant future that shelves could be stacked by machine (we have machines that can do that already) or even provide customer service (yep, they’ve prototype machines that can do that).

Automated cars are now being developed and while I reckon it will be some time before they become a day to day reality (not because the machine’s aren’t smart enough, but because they have to share the road with dumb humans). But they are probably going to happen eventually, which will have numerous implications…. and meaning a whole host of jobs disappearing or changing radically. And there are similar plans to automate entire ships, cargo planes or trains.

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Could the Johnny cabs of Total Recall become a thing of the future?

In short technology has changed the world of work and it will continue to do so. There will still be jobs available, but many traditional jobs will disappear, and the skill set you need to get those jobs still available (or the new jobs created by technology) will continue to rise. This is the problem facing certain segments of society. As they see it, the bar keeps going up, they can’t get over it anymore, so they have it in their heads that we can somehow lower the bar again and keep everything the same, but we can’t, not without reversing many recent technological trends and isolating ourselves from the globalised world.

In manufacturing engineering for example, we are well ahead of the curve. There’s still plenty of people working in UK factories and the UK still makes lots of stuff. Prior to the Brexit vote the UK was on course exceed its 1970’s peak in car production by the 2020’s, even though the work force is a fraction of what it used to be (i.e. automation has made a smaller workforce more productive). However, nobody gets a job these days in a factory without some sort of qualification. The days when, like in Bruce Springsteen’s “the river”  (or Jimmy Nail’s “big river) , your dad could have a word with the guys down at the plant and you could walk straight into a unionised job for life are long gone.

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Many traditional jobs will increasingly disappear in future

And my prediction is that this will now roll out across the entire economy. The blunt message I’d give to people is that if you don’t have some sort of third level qualification (a degree or professional qualification of some kind) you will probably struggle to remain employed in future. So for those who voted Brexit, or are thinking of voting Trump, I’d say leave migrants alone, they are not the main threat to your employment, you need to get educated.

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And to be honest, you won’t want to be employed in future if you don’t have a qualification. What few unskilled jobs that remain will be increasingly the really crappy jobs that nobody wants, with the highest levels of job insecurity and the worst pay. The sort of jobs which will only be taken by students (who will take anything while they pay their way through college), recently arrive migrants (who just want some cash while they settle in), or those suitably desperate who can’t find anything else. Indeed, the employees of Sports Direct will argue this is already reality for them. You could argue that quite a number of those who voted Brexit (or Trump) are the canaries in the coal mine, as they are already seeing these effects.

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Feel worthless at work sometimes? Others have it worse

However, their actions are likely to prove counter productive. Restricting migration does not mean locals will find it easier to get work. What’s likely to happen is employers will just move jobs overseas, or you’ve just given them a very strong financial incentive to find a way of developing a machine to do those jobs instead.

So clearly such a future of work means some profound changes for society. Obviously the costs of third level education means its beyond the reach of many. Hence why I think of all the proposals from Bernie Sanders that Hillary needs to endorse, its reducing college tuition costs. Yes, I realise that won’t be cheap (i.e. can she afford it and still reduce the deficit?), but I suspect it will be a necessity in future, if a massive level of social stratification is to be avoided.

And in the UK far from putting up fees, we need to start cutting them. Is it any coincidence that in countries like Germany where higher education is free, there is less unemployment and less people whinging about migrants?

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And this is not just for the benefit of those who don’t have a degree yet. Even those of us who have one will likely need to return to university to learn new skills from time to time. A recent trend in academia has been a move towards what are called massive online learning courses. And these are mostly aimed at post-grads (rather than undergrads) looking to learn a new skill. I won’t be surprised if a few years from now, the main job of universities is supporting courses like this, rather than teaching degrees to undergrads in RL.

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The future of work will likely be a future where we need to accept the fact that change is good, its normal. We need to be intellectually curious and willing to learn new things and try out new ideas. Of course if you’re a conservative voter, changes are you’re not intellectually curious and you don’t want things to change. You are also more likely to reject ideas like global warming and evolution. The roller coaster of technology is going too fast, they want it to stop so they can get off.

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In the future all of us will need to re-train and change careers from time to time

But getting off the roller coaster would mean giving up what we have. Given that I can’t see us banning the use of the internet for commercial purposes (I mean how would you even police that!) or introducing soviet style jobs for the boys policies (you join one queue and then another), I don’t see how these future trends can be halted. Technology has created many problems for our society (e.g. global warming) and often as not, the solution to these problems is more technology (e.g. renewables, electric cars). So the “getting off the roller coaster” option that conservatives are aiming for would come with a price and I don’t think they understand that this price is probably more than they are willing to accept (you’d have to live sustainably without fossil fuels or renewables…. so basically become Amish!).

Another question we have to ask is whether full employment is a realistic goal for future society. Our entire economic system assumes that anyone who can work will work, but that may not be true in future, there might not be enough jobs to go around in the future.

Now in theory this shouldn’t be an issue. Technology merely means making a smaller pool of workers more productive. In Germany and Scandinavia, yes the manufacturing sectors are smaller than they were a few decades ago. But they avoided the wholesale decimation of working class areas seen in the US or UK, with some districts being reduced to little more than welfare colonies. This I would argue is because the bulk of these job losses were due to miss guided neo-liberal economic policies in the US and the UK. Reversing these policies would seem a sensible solution, although voting for Trump or Brexit amounts to asking for a double helping of more of the same.

So in theory, full employment is still a possibility. But we need to remember that more productivity often means more energy and resource consumption. Now with good recycling policies and a 100% renewable energy grid this shouldn’t be a problem, but we don’t have that yet. So its possible that full employment will not be possible in future (at least for some period of time). Which means some profound changes to society. Given that already the number of workers is falling in Western states thanks to an ageing population, this means even less and less people having to pay more and more of a nation’s taxes to fund the welfare for those who aren’t working.

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Migrants are increasingly needed to help fund retirement for an ageing population

And incidentally curbing migration, which means less young people coming into the workforce and paying taxes to fund the pensions and healthcare of retirees, is likely to prove entirely counter-productive. It could well be a recipe for national bankruptcy.

My view is that we may need to change how the entire tax system works. This is one of the reasons I’ve long favoured a system of carbon taxes, or taxes on things that are generally bad for society (e.g. high VAT on alcohol or fatty foods), a Tobin tax (i.e. a tax on financial transactions) and of course higher rates of corporation tax. In all cases, the goal here is to spread the tax net away from simply funding everything off of income taxes and pushing those rates up every time the state coffers run bare. Which of course tends to provoke much whinging from the fewer and fewer workers stuck paying incoming tax.

And as for distributing welfare, well one alternative to the current system is that of a basic national income paid out to everyone. This would be enough to fund housing and keep people out of poverty. You want more money, you want the luxuries, get a job and work for it. No more whining about lazy people on benefits, everyone is on benefits, indeed presumably this system would come with the clause that such payment would be withdrawn if anyone commits anti-social behaviour (e.g. petty crime, dodging taxes via your offshore account, the usual!). Just this year the Swiss at a referendum on implementing this. Now while it was rejected, I think this was because many didn’t understand the underlying issues. So I won’t be surprised if such ideas don’t catch on in future.

So in essence our society is at a crossroads. I’d argue that we are at the end of a 2nd gilded age. Like the first gilded age, this was a time when neo-liberal capitalists ran wild, we all had a big party and nobody complained a lot because everyone was doing rather well out of it (as this moment of Zen from the film Margin Call summarises). But now, like in the 1920’s we’re stuck with the hangover. And like society in the 1920’s we face a choice.

On the one hand we can opt for a new deal of continuing down the path of social and technology progress. And let’s face it, progress is good. The factories of past era’s, yes there was full employment, but they were awful places to work. Repetitive backbreaking labour while being exposed to extremes of heat, noise, toxic chemicals and rotating machinery. Many had to retire from such jobs in their 50’s because their job ruined their health. Technology means that cars and other products these days are safer, more reliable (used to be the best way to make money from TV’s was selling warranties to fix them), more energy efficient and more user friendly. I mean is anyone reading this seriously suggesting that they hate Microsoft/Apple/Google so much that you want your old Commodore 64 back?

Or, as some societies did in the 1920’s and 30’s, we may end up taking the regressive path of fascism, blaming foreigners and other convenient scapegoats for all of our ills, restricting trade, reversing past policies, going backwards and focusing inward….until said leaders realise they need a war to prevent national bankruptcy and likely end up starting world war 3 in the process!

UKIP going the full Donald

You would think that the one saving grace from the recent referendum was that it would mean the end of UKIP. Farage has gone and given that UKIP is basically little more than a cult of personality of “the Farage“, so its the end of them, right?

No. They have a leadership contest and the evidence would seem to be they are going the full Donald Trump. One candidate is talking about banning Burqa’s, Islamic schools, etc. Another wants to ban all sorts of things ranging from “sin taxes” to the abolition of green energy and environmental protection…..why am I reminded of a particular Simpson’s episode?

And with no hint of irony they talk about “cementing libertarianism” within UKIP. Yes, this bunch of authoritarian neo-fascist’s who want to ban everything under the sun, who want to end free trade, free movement of people and freedom of worship, think that they are libertarians. As I’ve pointed out before, UKIP is if anything the ideological enemies of libertarianism. They are a national socialist party, the successors to Enoch Powell and the black shirts (worth remembering Farage used to be close to Powell, many leading UKIP’ers were once members of the British National Front).

Cameron’s mistake was his belief that the EU referendum, an attempt to appease the right wing bigot brigade would make them shut up (and then all vote for moderate Tories again). Well no, instead its merely given them a platform. And much like how the Tea party took over the Republicans, its probable we’ll see a jump in support for UKIP next election.

What about the deficit?

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One casualty of the upcoming election in America, is the Republican’s obsession with “the deficit, which is apparently all Obama’s fault (not of course Bush, who spent $4 trillion, about $1.09 billion a day, on a pointless series of wars, sat on his ass while another $22 trillion went up in smoke during the financial crisis….).

Either way, both parties seem to have gone awfully quiet about this issue lately. Given the promises Hillary has had to make to placate the Sanders camp, its likely she will have to borrow to pay for it all (of course whether she will get that through Congress is another thing). However, even Hillary at her worst would pale in comparison to what Trump proposes. He even boasts about spending double what she will, promising to borrow most of it. And he’s shown a distinct lack of understanding for the problem of debt (hardly surprising for a guy whose gone bankrupt 4 times!), going so far as to suggest he’d just run the printing presses and print money or even just up and default on it altogether.

So given that the Republican’s nominee is now suggesting he will do the very things they spent the last election trying to claim Obama would do (which of course he didn’t, actually the deficit has dropped under Obama), the GOP appear to have abandoned any talk of deficit reduction. And of course across the Atlantic here in the UK, post-Brexit, the Tories aren’t even pretending to care any more about the deficit.

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While the US remained in deficit throughout Obama’s term, he has managed to reduce it

So it raises the question, should we be worried about national debts? Or is it just all political smoke to serve one party or another. Well the answer is a bit of both.

Firstly there is nothing wrong or new about government’s borrowing money, no more than its wrong for you or I to borrow to buy a house or start up a business. Governments have been borrowing money off one another, or their citizens, throughout history. Consider that the average person in the UK will be spending anything from 10-40% of their income servicing and paying down debts (mortgages, personal loans, student loans, etc.). Debts to earnings are typically in a range from 2-5 times annual income (i.e. debt levels 200-1000% of earnings) for most people.

Now consider that the UK government spends about 8% of its earnings on servicing its debts and has a debt to GDP ratio of 85%. America spends 6.5% of its budget on interest payments and has a debt to GDP ratio of 76%. If most of us ran our finances the way that governments do, we’d be accused of being downright frugal. And keep in mind that the bulk of most nations debt is private debt (mortgages, company loans, etc.) rather than public debt.

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And there are some who argue that given the low interest rates right now and the fact that the bond markets are practically throwing money the way of finance minsters, we should borrow more and quit worrying about deficits until some other time. However in much the same way as during the financial crisis unemployed people were being issued NINJA loans, just because someone is prepared to lend you money, doesn’t mean you should take it.

One could argue that interest rates are artificially low at the moment. Brexit and global economic jitters means the markets see government bonds as a safe haven. Once they’ve had a chance to recover, borrowing costs could well rise. And for a government its usually when times are tough that they really get squeezed. In a recession government expenditure goes up at the same time as tax revenue falls and borrowing costs tend to go up as well. So its all to easy to see how a state who has borrowed recklessly (e.g. Greece) can get in way over its head very quickly.

Brexit and Trump’s loose talk of defaults also raises the risk of further market jitters. If Trump makes it into the White house, bond markets will have to price his recent comments into future lending costs. Interest rates will go up, meaning he’ll have to spend more just servicing the debts he already has. And given that all loans will rise (such as mortgage rates) at the same time many will see a sudden jump in mortgage costs, rents and inflation. Its all too easy to see how even the US could get into trouble very quickly in such a scenario.

But can’t we just renege on all this debt, give two fingers to the Chinese and not pay it back, just like Trump suggests? Well that depends….on how much you fancy living in a dumpster and hunting down mice and rats for food!

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A little dated, but demonstrates that only about 1/3 of US debt is owed to foreign countries, 2/3’s is internal

There’s a common misconception that most of US debt is owed to China. In truth its closer to 8%, although it was as high as 30% a few years ago (before the tea party came along and the Chinese realised that Americans were no longer responsible adults). About 65% of US debt is domestic, in other words owed to other Americans, with the rest owned to people abroad. Some of the biggest holders of US debt are in fact pension plans, both public and private schemes, as well as financial institutions (insurance companies, banks, hedge funds, etc.). If you have a savings account, a pension plan or any sort of insurance policy, you are likely to be a creditor to Uncle Sam.

So if the US did default as Trump has suggested (be it a soft default of just printing money to render the debt worthless or a hard default of refusing to pay it back), the real losers would be on main street. Yes the Chinese, Japanese, Europeans etal would be hopping mad. But the impact on their finances would pale compared to the collateral damage inflicted on ordinary Americans, who would see their life savings and retirement income wiped out. Given that borrowing costs would then sky rocket, mortgage rates and rents would go up, inflation would spiral out of control and millions would find themselves unemployed and homeless pretty quickly.

And this assumes that the US government can actually still borrow money. If international credit markets stopped lending, as they did in the last financial crisis, Trump would not be able to borrow, he’d have to launch a massive program of austerity that would make Osborne look like Santa Claus. We’re talking millions of federal jobs going (at a time when the private sector is also shedding jobs), mostly in areas such as defence (i.e. areas where the government has discretionary spending powers), we are talking of a fire sale of state assets (federal buildings, fighter aircraft, aircraft carriers, federal land, etc.).

In short, Trump would have created an economic mess than would make the recent financial crisis seem pretty mild by comparison. Voting for him is only a good idea if you fancy seeing the USS Ronald Reagan becoming the CLN Zhang He or the USS Gerald Ford becoming the FN Richelieu.

So debt and a national default is potentially very scary and something we should be worried about. But under normal circumstances its pretty unlikely to happen….so long as you don’t elect a lunatic as President that is! The major threat posed by national debt is more long term.

For example, Ireland has a debt to GDP ratio of 110% and a budget deficit of 3.5%. That sounds scary next to the UK or US economy, particularly when you consider the sky high levels of private debts Irish people hold. However, Ireland’s economy has now recovered from the recent downturn, we’re expected to return to a budget surplus by 2017 (we’ve gone through one or two quarters with a surplus, something the US or UK haven’t done in a long time). The expectation then is we’ll start paying off this debt, as we’ve done before….until the next crisis….recover, pay a bit more off…..next crisis, more debt, so on!

Also one has to remember that Ireland is a growing economy, with a relatively young population that is still growing strongly (you know what Catholics are like!). Even if we made no effort to actually pay off this debt (obviously I’d argue we should try to pay it down), i.e. we assume the amount borrowed stayed static, its value increased only in line with inflation, then by 2050 it would have dropped to debt to GDP ratio of 50-60% (because the growth in population and the economy means Ireland’s GDP will have doubled by then).

Now by contrast lets look at the US. Obama has made some effort to bring down the US deficit (no thanks to the GOP!), but some would argue its not coming down quickly enough, he’s not going to return a single balanced budget, nor is such a thing likely in the next few years. The US has a lot of very expensive mandatory spending programs on its books. The US is an ageing country, once the baby boomer pension time bomb hits its peak, its expected that there will be just 2.2 people employed and paying into social security for every retiree (it was 5:1 in 1960 and 3:1 in 2009).

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Sometime between 2030 and 2040, without some sort of radical change in government policy, US government revenue will exceed mandatory spending. Or put another way, its all but a mathematically certainty that the US will go broke, unless the country does something to alter course. And the above does not account for the Trump factor. Obviously increasing spending, expelling migrants (i.e. potential tax payers and future citizens), ending free trade and free movement (no more foreign investment) would likely accelerate this collapse.

And the UK too is in a similar boat to the US. Population growth is slowing, the baby boomers are starting to retire, the country’s deficit isn’t under control. And Brexit alongside any talk of expelling migrants or discouraging inward migration is likely to make the worst of an already bad situation. If present trends continue and we follow through with Teresa May’s proposals post-Brexit, its all but a certainty that the UK will eventually go bankrupt. Something has to be done.

Now up until now, I’ve not really said a lot that many on the political right won’t disagree with. However, its now that we see their policies on debt and the deficit is a bit of a stopped clock. As Osborne’s reign of error has shown, not too mention the EU’s “bailout” of Greece, harsh austerity doesn’t cut a deficit. Indeed the speed at which Osborne’s policy was abandoned and he was thrown under the bus post-Brexit, does tend to suggest it was always just an excuse for class warfare, which allowed the Tories to justify a tax cut to the rich, while cutting public spending on things that didn’t benefit the wealthy.

Governments that have actually been successful at pulling down the deficit, be they Ireland, the Scandinavian countries, Germany or the US under Bill Clinton, have generally done so through a combination of raising taxes and cuts, but cuts in areas where they could implement them without causing massive hardship. e.g. cutting back on things like military expenditure or wasteful government spending.

Crucially however it is important to recognise that debt is a long term problem which requires a long term solution. This means any plan needs cross party support that will survive multiple parliaments. One party (e.g. the Tories) getting in a huddle and forcing through a policy (motivated more by ideology that necessity) that they know the other parties will reverse once they take over, is not going to work.

I’d argue Clinton’s big mistake, involved nothing to do with cigars and interns (although the GOP using this scandal to play political cricket hardly helped). It was his failure to get buy-in from the Republicans regarding his deficit reduction plans. Hence when G.W. Bush came along, he began cutting taxes, started wars and generally spending money like a sailor on shore leave. And if republicans are serious about paying down the deficit, they should be using what’s left of Obama’s term to set the tone for Hillary’s term, not sitting in a corner sulking, refusing to even confirm his supreme court nominee. And I don’t see how they can endorse a nominee (Trump) who seems committed to taking a wrecking ball to America’s public finances.

So in summary, borrowing is normal in any capitalist economy, whether you are Chancellor of the exchequer or a small business setting up a tab for a regular customer. Everyone needs to borrow at some point. Arguing that debt is bad and we shouldn’t borrow, is like trying to argue that food is bad and we shouldn’t eat, just because some people overeat and get fat. Its all about only borrowing what you can afford to pay back.

Long term there are issues with national debt that many nations need to address. For some countries, its a problem that will basically take care of itself (growing economy, growing population, a tiny deficit or a budget surplus). Others need to get control of the problem sooner rather than later. And if we’re realistic some countries are in the sink by themselves class. The global economy needs to come up with a debt forgiveness plan, or face uncontrolled defaults at some point in the future.

But in nearly all cases, its a long term problem that requires long term solutions. A panicky policy of harsh austerity almost never works, indeed it will likely make the situation worse. And crucially as far as Novembers election is concerned, electing a lunatic who will behave recklessly with the public finances will mean we do have to start worrying about debt.

Why Indy-ref2 will be very different

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In the wake of the Brexit vote, the SNP are calling for another referendum on Scottish independence. Inevitably the Tories are saying no, why we had one just two years ago, what’s changed since then to warrant another referendum? Well in short, everything. This referendum will be very different, anything but a re-run of the previous one. The issues have changed, public opinion has changed, the consequences of Independence have changed.

Post-Brexit opinion

Naturally the fact that the Scottish overwhelmingly voting to stay in the EU and the rUK voting to leave, does drastically change things. We were assured by the Tories at the last vote that Brexit was very unlikely and there was little difference between opinions on the EU north of the border and south of it. Well clearly that was not true. And recall much of the “project fear” arguments related to uncertainty over Scotland’s EU membership if Scotland left the UK. So it is entirely legitimate to want the referendum re-run for these reasons alone (either that or rerun the Brexit vote).

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And opinion polls reflect this. In the immediate wake of Brexit a poll emerged showing a whopping 27% lead to independence. More recent polls show a smaller lead of 6-7% towards yes.

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Its worth keeping in mind that in the immediate wake of the last referendum opinion polls narrowed to either a tie, a narrow lead to yes or a 3-5% lead to no. So we have a shift in public opinion of at least 10% (if not more) over this one issue in the space of a few weeks. That is more than sufficient grounds by itself to argue for a 2nd vote. Not least because it changes how a future independence vote will be run.

Project fear

Last time around the Tories and the no camp opted for so called project fear. Pointing to the economic dangers of Scottish independence. However, now both camps will likely be running their own brand of project fear. The SNP will be able to point out that by remaining in the EU, Scotland will benefit greatly, many companies that trade with the EU in the UK will likely relocate north of the border. So the no camp won’t have everything its own way.

One of my criticisms of the SNP last time around was the fact that they were a bit unrealistic and did not consider the negative consequences of independence. This time around it seems they are planning for a bit of a warts and all approach, acknowledging that post- independence the country will have to make some tough choices, but it will be better off in the long run. While this approach might put some people off, the obvious benefit is that it leaves the no camp with nowhere to go. They can’t run project fear, when the SNP are saying the same thing anyway.

In any event I would argue that one reasons why the Tories lost the Brexit referendum was that they kept playing the project fear card. But after playing the same card in three referendums and a general election people simply didn’t believe them anymore, they’ve developed an immunity to it. In short, I’m doubtful it will work this time, particularly if they are already behind in the polls.

Instead, the Tories will have to play up the positive aspects of being in the UK. However, there’s the problem. The Tories, don’t exactly do positives, not in Scotland anyway. Them trying to be positive is like someone dressed as a creepy clown driving around late at night in a creepy looking van trying to hand out free candy to kids.

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The Tories Indyref2 battle bus is unveiled

Who will lead the no vote?

This is why last time the Tories largely left it up to labour to lead the no vote campaign. But labour are unlikely to make that mistake a 2nd time. In the wake of the indy-ref labour support in Scotland plummeted. They lost all but one of their seats in Scotland. And to add insult to injury, in a typical act of Sith betrayal, the Tories then ran a general election campaign centred on how labour would be beholden to those sneaky scots and in Alex Slamond’s pocket.

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A poster campaign that the Tories will likely regret running, if there’s a 2nd independence referendum

So I think the lesson for Scottish labour would be to not take the lead on any campaign. Indeed if you have been listening to Scottish labour leader Kezia Dugdale recently you will see she’s leaving nothing out. She’s even not closing off the option to support an independence campaign. Now I doubt that would actually happen (indeed she’s since back petalled from this a bit). However, the indecision within Scottish labour leadership does reflect the fact that they cannot take the same approach as last time. My guess is Scottish labour will be neutral in the next referendum, some in the party will campaign for a yes vote, others for a no vote. Or the party may just stay out of it altogether.

While I won’t rule out a figure like Gordon Brown stepping in to lead the no vote, I’m not sure how effective he would be, he’s soften his tone somewhat since the 23rd of June. Certainly I doubt we’ll be getting Alastair Darling again (I bumped into him not too long ago, I was careful not to mention the Scottish referendum as I had this fear he’d start foaming at the mouth and banging his head against the wall as he succumbed to paranoid flash backs), the poor guy has suffered enough. And given the lib dem’s ferrero rocher moment, I’m doubting they are in a position to help, nor would they want too.

My guess is that the no camp will have to look outside of politics, find someone like J. K Rowling or that guy from dragon’s den, to lead the no campaign. However, that would be a risky strategy. Basically it will either be spectacularly successful, or they’ll go into a debate against Nicola Sturgeon and she’ll shred them (politicians tend to be good debaters) and the whole thing will fall apart.

Currency

One of the major mistake from last time was the failure of the SNP to be able to answer a simple question, what currency will we be using on independence day? Again, minded as I was to support independence, it baffled me how they couldn’t get something this basic right.

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And quite frankly the idea that of sharing the pound A) have you run that past Whitehall? cos I think they’ll say no, and B) why would you want to keep the pound? This undermines the whole point of independence! Clearly the SNP policy here was being driven by the results of focus groups, which showed many didn’t want to give up the pound for various reasons.

However with the pound falling in value, the case for retaining the pound is undermined. In some respects you could argue a Scottish pound would have advantages. And to those who say it can’t be a stable currency, ya and you might want to run that by the Danes, Iceland, Sweden, Norway, Hungary, the Czech’s, etc. All have their own currency, all are small countries, in many cases with a smaller population and GDP than Scotland. They (with the noted exception of Norway) don’t have Scotland’s oil reserves or high value exports. And many other EU states, such as Ireland, Belgium, or Holland had a stable independent currency for many years prior to joining the Euro. So I have little doubt that a Scottish pound is a realistic possibility.

And the SNP seem to recognising this. It would seem that this time they will be campaigning on the basis of founding their own currency, although its value might at least initially pegged to the UK pound (the Danes have a similar arrangement with the Euro, as do Norway to Sweden) or even joining the euro. This will not be straight forward. It will take time and it might mean some temporary austerity or tax hikes initially, while proving to the world that Scotland can balance its books…..although its worth noting that the Tories have thoroughly failed to do anything of the sort.

But if they can win the argument on currency, then that does change things considerably.

EU citizens and Scottish independence

Last time around the SNP broadened the big tent as wide as they could, gambling that the more they had voting, the more likely independence would become. Of course, they knew that there were large groups who would vote as a block against independence, but they were gambling that the yes votes they gathered in the process would cancel this out (of course they were wrong, in the end the vow meant the numbers just didn’t add up).

EU citizens, who were allowed to vote last time around but denied a vote in the EU referendum, by and large voted against Scottish independence. However, this is unlikely to be the case this time around. With Theresa May threatening to use them as pawns in negotiations with Brussels, we can assume many EU citizens in Scotland will now vote for Scottish independence to preserve their status within the EU. Certainly for me, its all but a given I’ll vote yes, if only for this reason alone.

And similarly there will be large blocks of people who voted no last time who can be expected to now vote yes. Again, this changes the dynamics of the referendum completely. The no camp, last time relied on the fact that a large proportion of voters would be naturally expected to vote no, so they only had to focus those who were on the fence. Now its the other way around. Hence, why a “project fear” approach is unlikely to work.

And if lots of EU citizens are voting for Scottish independence, this naturally changes the position of the EU as regards the question. EU government will have to take into account what’s in the interest of their citizens living in Scotland.

The EU and the Spanish

Another major sticking point from last time was the attitude of the EU. Last time the SNP seemed to assume they were already a member of the EU, the EU pointed out that no, you’ll have to apply for membership like everyone else.

Now the EU seems a bit more open towards the idea of Scottish independence. They will be anxious to avoid setting a precedence by admitting Scotland, but some sort of fast track approach in conjunction with Brexit (or should we say Engexit) is a possibility. There will likely be a transition period, when the country is not in the UK but also not in the EU, but with the right agreements in place this should not effect trade.

The Spanish do represent something of a sticking point. They don’t want Scottish independence to create a case for Catalonian independence (or Basque independence). However the Spanish are also very quick to point out that the Scottish question is a very different matter. However if they were to openly block Scottish EU membership (as its often implied by some in the media they would) naturally this would lead many to question whether the two issues are so different. In short, they would have undermined their own case for blocking Catalonian independence.

And the Spanish will know that there will be countries in the EU which are more favourable Scottish independence, such as Ireland, or many of the Eastern European and Scandinavian countries. The danger for the Spanish is that if they try too hard, they’ll antagonise these nations, which would be a bad idea as it would undermine their own position.

So my guess is, the EU will ask a lot of tough questions, the Spanish will try to drag things out a bit, but otherwise it will probably go ahead. It will take a lot more time than the SNP seem to think, but a lot less time than the naysayers will have us believe.

Bottom line, the EU is not about to vote to make itself smaller. The consequences for Scotland voting to stay in the EU, voting to leave the UK as a consequence and then being given the cold shoulder would fundamentally undermine the whole EU project.

37.3%

And speaking of Spain, there’s the question of the legality of a second independence referendum. It seems likely that Westminster will not allow another legally binding referendum. In essence their plan is to counter independence the same way the Spanish saw off the Catalonia vote, by denying the referendum credibility.

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However if this is the plan, its not going to work. Why? Simple – 37.3%, which you arrive at by multiplying the 51.8% who voted for Brexit times the turn out of 72.2%. The problem for the Tories is that they are pushing ahead with Brexit, on the basis of a non-legally binding referendum, without a vote in parliament, on the basis of a plurality of just 37.3%. By doing so they are setting a precedence. If the SNP can get the vote for independence over this bar, then it becomes very difficult to argue against them. And that isn’t very difficult to do, particularly if many no voters don’t bother showing up to the polls.

Let us suppose the latest opinion polls showing a 47% to 41% split in the vote is correct. Let us suppose that the don’t know‘s and the strong no‘s boycott the next indy-ref, so only those who are weak no‘s (they feel there should be a vote even though they still intend to vote no, e.g. they are married or to a yes voter) and yes voters show up to the polls. Well do the maths and with a turn out of just 48% the SNP could exceed the plurality of the Brexit vote (in this scenario the result would be 77% for and 23% against). And if we assume that the turn out for an Indy ref2 is the same as the EU referendum (67%, again strong no‘s and don’t know’s stay away, leaving the poll to be fought between the weak no‘s and the yes voters). The likely result will be about 67% yes, 33% no with a plurality of 45%.

So I’m afraid the “Spanish option” would likely be a total disaster for the Tories, not least because after 6-12 months of a one sided campaign from the SNP, public opinion won’t be split 47/41, probably the margin will be much higher and therefore the SNP’s margin of victory will be a lot higher. Its not too difficult to see them exceeding a plurality of 50%.

All the Tories will do with such a tactic is guarantee a very wide margin of victory to the SNP. And then what are they going to do? They can’t veto Scotland’s EU membership like they threatened to do last time. They can’t deny the Scot’s the pound if they set up their own currency (actually Whitehall will now be more worried about the Scot’s refusing to take on their share of the UK’s national debt). Armed with a democratic mandate that exceeds that of the Tories, it will be very difficult for them to stop Scottish independence.

And while the EU will be reluctant to recognise Scottish independence, they will not ignore the result and will likely insist that post-Brexit negotiations only consider the rUK, opening separate talks directly with Edinburgh.

The vow mark II

Last time, Scottish independence was partially thwarted thanks to a last minute intervention by Gordon Brown, culminating in the infamous vow. Could the same happen again?

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There is already a post-brexit proposal for a federal UK in which all powers, excluding defence and foreign policy are devolved to the regions and a new English parliament. There would be either a shared currency with the pound becoming essentially like a mini-eurozone, or each nation would develop its own currency pegged to a fixed exchange rate.

This could well be sufficient to allow Scotland, Northern Ireland and Gibraltar to stay in the UK and also in the EU. While the Spanish (again) will deny this, there is a precedence here. Greenland is part of Denmark, but not in the EU, even though the rest of Denmark is in the EU. So its not beyond the scope of legal argument for this to work.

However, the rest of the UK would have to agree to this. And Theresa May isn’t exactly the sort of PM we could see signing up for it (she’s a bit authoritarian). Without a clear mandate prior to a vote, you’d be asking Scot’s to choose between a possibly maybe and the certainty of independence. That doesn’t sound like it will work.

And also, there’s the issue of credibility. There are many Scot’s who feel that the vow was never delivered on. While the Tories would argue no we did deliver on the vow, but this is a bit like paying a kid to cut your lawn, and he sets it on fire. Okay, he did reduce the height of the grass, but its not quite what you were expecting.

Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.

The uncertainty principle

So all in all, a second independence referendum will be a very different affair. The SNP won’t have everything their own way. They’ve got some difficult questions to answer. The stakes are higher now, post-brexit. But equally, the Tories now face some serious challenges. Trying to fight an independence referendum while negotiating Brexit, with all of their broken promises dug up by the SNP and spat back at them, its not going to be easy. And ignoring the problem and hoping that it goes away, will all but guarantee that Scottish independence happens.

So in the absence of a reversal of the Brexit referendum, I don’t see how a 2nd independence referendum can be stopped. But will independence happen? Last time my assumption was probably not, but I could just about see Cameron screwing things up enough to make it a possibility. Now however, I’d call the odds 50/50, perhaps higher. But that’s what’s really changed, I don’t see how anyone could predict the outcome this time.