A Spaceport for Sutherland

The news in the last day or so has ben full of the announcement of the Spaceport is going to be build in Sutherland.   So I  thought I’d provide a little background and context for anyone who might not be so sure of where Sutherland is.  You see, despite it’s name, its actually the very top part of the United Kingdom’s  land mass.   John O’Groats is in Sutherland.  Sutherland distance

I’m typing this just outside Perth and I thought I’d see how long Google Maps reckons it would take me to get to Wick – which isn’t at the top of Sutherland.

It tells me it’s a distance of 213 miles and that it will take me some 4 and half hours to drive there.  For context, Manchester is 264 miles from Perth.  Or I could take a train, for mere 5 hour 49 minutes  (That’s got to be wrong.  Surely??)  Maybe not, train services north of the Glasgow-Edinburgh central belt in Scotland are not that great really.  I’m not sure that Wick has a station.  Bus?  Aye. Right.  So Scotland’s quite big really…

So I’ll get in my car and drive up to Wick.  Just get on the motorway and zoom along. Well err, no.  Not exactly.  There are no motorway class roads north of Perth – well not on that route.  So It’ll be the A9 then, a fabulous dual carriageway.  Again, not exactly no.  Many sections of the A9 are still single carriageway.  So getting to Sutherland is not as easy as say getting from London to Manchester, which at 208 miles is a comparable distance.   And this is where the grand Spaceport for the UK is to be built.  The centre for Space tourism for the UK is along a load of single carriageway roads

So the first thing the Spaceport in Sutherland’s going to need is a spaceport to get you there!  Pardon me for thinking this is not  really likely to happen….

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Deal or No Deal?

DON-LOGO-STILL-REVERSE

That’s the question Noel Edmonds used to ask on his TV Gameshow.  Right now, it feels like the UK is on a gameshow just like that one. 

What kind of Deal is Theresa May pursuing?  One that is ‘frictionless’?  One that is ‘deep and special’?  One that ‘secured the place of Global Britain”?   It also depends who you ask.   is Theresa’s ‘Deal’ the same as Boris’s ‘Deal’, nd what ‘Deal’ is Jacob wanting?   Have any of them paused to think that to get a ‘Deal’, any ‘Deal’,  needs the other side/party to agree to it?    What kind of ‘Deal’ does the EU want?   Do you think they might have a view on the ‘Deal’ the UK will end up with?  

 

 

Sadly, whatever I type today will probably be wrong by tomorrow.  The changes and utter chaos which is surrounding the UK Government is like nothing I’ve ever seen before.    The Scottish Government has been consistent in it’s demands that Scotland needs to stay within the Customs Union  (at a minimum). The SG produced an analysis of the impact of multiple types of Brexit on the Scottish economy.   Predictably this was rubbished as scare-mongering by the Tories in Scotland and just ignored by the Tories in Westminster, including the Prime Minister.  But wait, then the UK Government Treasury analysis, which they had said didn’t exist, was leaked to the public.  And guess what?  It confirms pretty much exactly what the Scottish Government has been saying all along.   The impact of Brexit, of any type of ‘Deal’, will range from very bad to catastrophic for Scotland.  And it’s the same for many other parts of the UK too. Only the city of London looks like it may escape relatively unharmed.   (This puzzles me, because if the whole of the rest of the UK is contracting at the rates shown, 10%  to 16% reductions in regional economies, then it’s sure as hell going to hurt London too.)  

 

brexit impactAdjacent is a picture I copied from Paul Mason’s twitter feed.  It shows the HM Treasury regional impact analysis Brexit is forecast to have.  Paul Mason rightly points out that a logical explanation for the causes of the downturn in the different regions is easy to see. What could wipe 15% of the North East of England?  Easy – Nissan.     What could wipe out the NW – equally easy – BAE and in N.Ireland – Bombardier.  In the Midlands – it’s Jaguar Land Rover and Toyota.     What have all of these got in common?  They make stuff.  they rely on just-in-time deliveries as part of a pan-EU supply chain.  Brexit, of whatever ‘Deal’, will break those JIT supply chains.   Whereas the UK was a springboard to Europe post-Brexit it will not be so.  And this is before we get serious about understanding what trading under WTO rules actually means. 

To me, it looks like the Tories are returning to finish the job Thatcher started.  That is to finally destroy major manufacturing industry in the UK.  It just doesn’t look like they “get” the importance to a balanced economy of having a strong manufacturing sector.  I mean, I’m sure Germany would get along fine without Siemens, Bosch, BMW, Mercedes, Volkswagen, BASF, Bayer, Continental, etc etc. 

What’s galling is that I wrote some stuff about this back in July last year and we really don’t seem to have moved on very far at all since then.  (Out, out damned Brexit) 

 

 

I started this post in the land of a TV Gameshow,  I think it’s more like we’re in a land of a hit musical number ……  I wonder if Lord Lloyd Webber had our current mind-bending circumstances in mind when he wrote it…….   me, I think it’s more of a nightmare than a dream….

A personal brush with Brexit

Brexit. Here’s a story to ponder.

I’m in the lucky position of owning a couple of rare bottles of whisky. So rare are they that I thought I’d get them valued at a local whisky auction specialist. One is estimated at about £2,000 and the other at about £3,000. So I asked the auctioneer (who is also the owner of the business) what they might do in the future. “Brexit” he said. Right now, he told me, people like me are getting a good price for such whiskies because of the Brexit caused devaluation of the pound. Overseas bidders are bidding in their own currencies and the weak pound helps my whiskies values. So far, so good.

“But” he said…. If the UK does not get a wide ranging trade deal with the EU his whisky auctions business will have to work under WTO terms. Such terms for many countries round the world will impose a 50% duty in whisky. So the value of rare whiskies like mine will take a hit. He was pretty sure that the Diageo’s and Edrington’s will get a deal of some kind from the UK Government, but that the small distillers and sellers will be very badly impacted, which includes his business.

This is the first time I can say I’ve had to make a decision which is very directly influenced by Brexit. So I’ll be selling these little beauties sooner rather than later.

 

Finance and Constitution

I am a sad economics/tax/policy geek. I’ve been watching and listening to a meeting of the Scottish Parliament’s Finance and Constitution Committee while doing other stuff this morning. The interactions of businesses, employment, tax policy is fascinating.  If you want to understand the “powers” the Scottish Goverment has over tax watch this Committee Meeting from the Scottish Parliament. It’s only about 2 hours long…..  Then you’ll understand just how little control the “most powerful developed parliament” in the world really has….

 

http://www.scottishparliament.tv/Archive?Area&categoryId=adf12acf-2cad-492c-8c5b-538e04973a86&parentCategoryClicked=False&pageNumber=1&orderByField=ScheduledStart&queryOrder=DESC

Here we go, here we go, here we go,

Once more into the breech dear friends,   Ask not what your country can do for you but ask what you can do for your country, Never in the field of human politics have so many been betrayed so deeply by so few… (…I’ll return to this phrase)

OK so I paraphrased one of these quotes.

We’ve got a General Election happening in 7 weeks, a mere 4 weeks after the Local Authority/Council elections,  Whoop-de-f’n-do.   I’m scunnered at the games being played by Theresa May and the Tory party.  Let’s just remember that it is they – and only they – who created the whole messy environment of Brexit.  They chose to use the country as a plaything to try and fix the problems within their party.  And they are still doing it.  I guess when you are a multi-millionaire, which all members of the Tory Goverment are,  real world problems like benefit sanctions and state snooping don’t exist in the reality you live in. So you play games and the rest of country is of no consequence to you at all.
Going back to the point of this post – it’s to encourage the one or two people who read this blog to do something. To go and join a party.  But don’t just join.  Don’t just salve your conscience by bunging a tenner to the SNP (other parties are available).  Step away from the keyboard.  Go along to branch meetings, get involved.  Actions speak far louder than words.  And right now, your country needs actions.  Like never before (in my lifetime).  Help your chosen party. Deliver leaflets, take your turn on street stalls, write to newspapers, hell, even go on protest marches  (I’m about to do that for the first time in my life…)

I’ve always been a supporter of Scottish independence, so it’s natural that I should be a long time members of  the SNP isn’t it?  Well I’m not.  I joined the SNP the day Jo Cox MP was murdered.  Something, for me, changed that day.  A family lost it’s mum, a husband lost his wife, because of what she believed in and the job she was doing.   So I joined the SNP on Thursday 16th June 2016.   I joined the SNP because no other party is likely to be able to deliver the goal I fundamentally believe in – that Scotland can easily be a successful, fair and just independent state. Something about her being murdered made me believe it was time to stand up and be counted and be active.  Once independence is achieved, then <shrugs> I’ll look around at the parties in the newly restored independent Scotland and join one of them. Or perhaps not join any.   I don’t think the SNP are perfect. Far from it.  In Nicola Sturgeon they’ve got possibly the best politician on this island, but this party ain’t perfect.  Not yet……… But they’ve got the same goal running through them as I think is the only way to make the country I want to be living in.  I’m too old to emigrate to Canada.
Let’s not kid ourselves. Yesterday’s roll of the dice by Theresa May was the opening move in her latest grand game.  She doesn’t remotely care that she’s now doing something she promised not to do, that she’s, in effect, tearing up laws her party made. That there’s a valid degree of suspicion that she’s running away from potential criminal charges being placed against her party.   Nope, none of these matter.   She doesn’t care about “Now is not the time”.   It’s a game, and th eonly objective is power. Purely that. My bet is that she’ll be gone and the Tories will have another leader within 12 months.  Jacob Rees-Mogg?   Just remember you read it here first….

So my feeling is that The Battle For Britain is on NOW.  The result of the General Election in 7 weeks is going to shape the country for the next 10 years,  probably far longer. the future of the NHS, of Education, of environmental regulations of human rights will be decided in the next 7 weeks.

So if you care at all about the country you live in, about the country your children are growing up in, your grandchildren are going to grow up in, get up off your chair and get involved.  For me that means I have to do as much as I can to support the SNP.  Your decisions may be different.

It used to be said that polite conversation should avoid politics, religion and sport. That was then, this is now.  The most important change we could all make is to be openly talking about politics. It’s far too important to be not discussed.

The Battle For Britain is on NOW.  What are you going to tell future generations you did during these short seven weeks?

Here’s a handy link   🙂

https://members.snp.org/#/join

The Art of War….

Sun Tzu’s writing on the way a war and battles should be fought and campaigned are still used as example of how to do things logically to improve the likelihood of reaching a successful conclusion. suntzu

 

If you’re involved in planning for anything you’d normally think about what the best case and what the worst case could be. Then you’d expect a result that was somewhere in the middle. That’s just common sense. If you’re planning to hold a car boot sale you’d probably think about what would happen if it’s a nice day and what would happen if it’s raining.  It’s called scenario planning  in the buzzword-bingo business land.  And everyone does it.  Everyone. Always.  Then they do “What-Ifs”.  What if this happens?  What if that happens?  What if this+that happens?   So you plan.  The bigger the event the more you plan.  That’s really what Sun Tzu was teaching all these centuries ago.  The art of planning.


Unless you’re the multimillionaires in the UK Government. Then, you don’t plan. You don’t think about the best case or the worst case.  You just spout vapid empty slogans and soundbites. You don’t even think that establishing the baseline case for Brexit by actually planning the impact of “NoDeal” would be a good idea.  Good heavens. Why would you do that?  The only rational I can come up with for the calamitous failure by the UK Government is because no matter what they do, it has zero consequences for them personally.  And that’s not good news for the rest of us.

How about this for the UK Goverment – You plan because it is only when you know just how bad the worst case scenario is that you can even vaguely know if you’ve negotiated something better?  Sound like a good idea? It does to me.  But not to MayDavisFoxJohstone.

I don’t recall a UK Government ever being so utterly incompetent.  Margaret Thatcher was bad news for many but we all knew what she was doing.  Tony Blair was a wide boy on the make (and he started the rot of Government by Daily Mail headline) but we knew what he was doing.  This lot, particularly Theresa May, are clueless.

As Winston might have said……  “Never in field of human democracy, have so many been so screwed by so few”  



Until we can persuade parliament to allow us, the electorate and the people they are supposed to represent, to have the right to recall MPs whom we are not satisfied with, probably the only thing we can all do now is to write to our MPs telling them in no uncertain terms that the performance of the UK Goverment is not good enough.  Use http://www.writetothem.com  to get the email address of your MP.

Economy, Brexit, K-Waves & Stuff

This is a rambling post on the state we’re in now and some underlying economic theory (as I understand it) which might help us think through the challenges posed by the Brexit vote.

 

NeoLiberalism – it’s what’s going on

But to start, let’s look at where we are – here’s a video clip where a top economist pretty much tears apart the system we’re living with.
https://www.theguardian.com/business/video/2016/aug/11/owen-jones-talks-to-ha-joon-chang-austerity-is-based-on-lies-video-interview

The way everything is being done now doesn’t look like a sustainable way for the future.   There’s not much doubt that we’re living through a massive transfer form the people to the elite  ( ireally don’t much like thes terms, but can’t think of any alternatives.)  NeoLiberalism isn’t new, it has been going since the days of Pinochet in Chile  (’73-90)  and we can look back at his rule and see how it impacted on the people of Chile.  It was fine for the 1%, but very bleak indeed for the rest of the population.  And this is the same economic system, pretty much, as Reagan and Thatcher imposed on the US and the the UK.  And it’s still going on…..  Our UK Government seems to be stuck with Thatcher’s mantra of “There Is No Alternative”.  TINA can’t be true though.  Everything in life has alternatives so logically there must be alternatives to NeoLiberalism.  It’s just that NL has been the in vogue economic framework for so much of the world for so long, almost a generation, that it has become so deeply ingrained that it’s hard for any alternative to be thought of in the mainstream.  Here’s a little graph showing the changes in household income over the past decades (there are many like this which look the same).  Sorry it’s not got a source on it, I picked it up from Prof David Bell at University of Stirling.  I trust he wouldn’t be using it in public if it wasn’t accurate.

household income.JPG

This is what NeoLiberalism has done and is continuing to do.  Can you tell I’m not a fan?

 

Long Waves

There’s an interesting underlying theory of long waves of economic activity.  It was postulated by Nikolai Kondratiev  back in 1925.  It continues to attract attention because it still seems to fit what’s going on in the global and national economies.  If you’re interested in the theory of this, then look up Kontratiev, Schumpeter and yes, Karl Marx.  What you read might surprise you.

Here’s a representation of  Kondratiev Waves.  As you can see, it;s a kind of 45 year to 60 year cycle.  We’re at an interesting point where, according to this economic theory, we ought to be entering a cyclical downturn.  Maybe this theory is correct?  There’s certainly plenty of people who respect the underlying theory of these long waves of economic activity.

520px-Kondratieff_Wave.svg.png

Source : By Rursus – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7833300

So my thoughts are that it looks like the UK is moving to the point of diminishing returns for NeoLiberalism. The UK economy is already one of the most open in the world with much of the national infrastructure being owned by non-UK businesses.  As the UK goes to negotiate it’s Brexit it’s not starting with a very strong hand.  Negotiations are about give and take, about ‘if you do this, we’ll do that’.  What has the UK got to offer to prospective trading partners?  Thanks to the decades of NeoLiberal economics being followed by successive UK Governments of all colours, the bargaining chips have already been sold.  What can David Davis offer?  If there’s one thing which is critical to the UK it’s the preservation of the ‘Passport’ rights for the financial services sector in London.  What can Davis actually offer up to the EU to preserve this?  Sure the other countries and companies will want to sell their goods into the UK. But at what cost to the UK?   And if the Kondratiev Wave is right, doing all this when we’re about to enter a period of economic downturns isn’t going to make it any easier.
The graph below shows the value of trade flows to/from the UK, Germany and China.  (source Prof Bell, and the ONS)  Germany sells a lot more to us than we do to them.  Germany sells a lot more to China than the UK does. (Must be all the BMW’s, Mercedes and Porches. If only the UK still had a car industry it owned…….. <tongue firmly in cheek> ) The UK sells a lot more to Germany than we do to China.  Our exports to Germany are facilitated by our membership of the single market.  If that changes, if any form of trade barriers emerge post Brexit, it will hurt. Looking on the bright side, maybe we could sell more stuff to China.  Now what do we make that they might want to buy?   Oh I know, we could flog them the rights to build our new nuclear power stations………….

trade flows.JPG

 

 

Sleepwalking to where?

There’s something worrying me about the way the Great Britain is heading.  Scotland is on a different political trajectory from England and the gap is widening.  Northern Ireland is going to be in a the most difficult of all places as/when the Brexit actually happens.  If hard borders are needed on the emerald Isle I’ve not read anything which predicts how this will end up.

It seems that there’s a percentage of the people who are happy to be seen as being “Brengland”.  What’s good for Britain has to be good for England as England is Britain. Right?   Well no, it seems that many parts of Great Britain don’t think this way.  Scotland’s a confusing place for politics. The SNP win almost everything, yet the majority still still seem to be not in favour of independence, the core raison d’etre of the party they vote for most.  Wierd.  There’s a dichotomy there,  how can this party be so successful in Holyrood, Westminster, local authority elections and not yet have an overwhelming mandate for Independence?

Despite pointless stories in the media Scotland isn’t anything like a one party state though  It’s just that the alternatives to the SNP are so dire as to be unvotable (is that a word?)   Wee Ruthie is keeping a low profile as the Tory party gets away with an internal coup d’etat by it’s right wing.  Omnishambles isn’t strong enough to describe the performance of the Tories over the Brexit vote.

And we’re still £1.7 Trillion pound in debt.   That’s a number with 12 zeros in it.  £1,700,000,000,000.00. It’s an incomprehensible amount of money.  Here’s what One billion looks like as a stack of dollar bills (we don’t have £1 notes anymore and I couldn’t find a picture of £1 coins). And we’re at almost double that amount.
1-trillion-dollars.jpg

Think of the debt this way –  a single pound coin weighs 0.095Kg.  So we can get about £10,500 per tonne of £1 coins.  So a Million £££s will weigh about 95 tonnes. That’s about 12 double decker buses.  So a £Billion will be 12,000 buses.  If these buses were all end to end they’d line up for 100 kilometers. And that’s only a £Billion pounds.  A £Trillion is  £1Million x £1Million.  Oh this is getting unimaginable……  But these are the numbers our politicians blithely throw around these days.

Or another way – A million seconds is 12 days. A billion seconds is 31 years. A trillion seconds is 31,688 years. A million minutes ago was – 1 year, 329 days, 10 hours and 40 minutes ago. A billion minutes ago was just after the time of Christ. A trillion seconds ago…. we were neanderthals.  

And the thing is, regardless of how you measure that debt, it’s still going up. Every single day our Goverment is spending more money than it takes in. Oh but we’re using Austerity to reduce the deficit they say.  (deficit = how big the gap is between what the Government gets in and what it spends. Debt = the sum of all the ongoing deficts) Yes, credit perhaps that the Tories are using Austerity to do something.  But it’s not to reduce the countries debts. It’s to channel money from those who pay tax to those who pay to avoid tax.   More on this in another post I think.

Down in England though, the transition to being a one party state is well on track.  The Labour party has disintegrated.  It doesn’t matter whether Jeremy Corbyn is voted as leader again, the disintegration has happened.  Resorting to the courts to decide who is eligible to vote in internal elections is really just the last rites being administered.  There’s no way back for them to being a party of Government.  Which is a desperate shame because what both Westminster and Holyrood are crying out for is effective opposition.  In Scotland the main opposition is provided by the media who relentlessly follow an “SNPBad” storyline.  But in Westminster it is different. The same media give the Tory party a feather bed ride in comparison to the treatment they give to Labour.

So where is this leading us to?  Even though we’re living through the most incompetent Tory Government in living memory 38% of the population voted for them. And they’re about to change the electoral wards.  Advantage Tories.  In fact, it looks like Game, Set and Match to the Tories for a very long time to come.  The Electoral Calculus site has this (grim) prediction for the 2020 elections following the boundary reviews.

electoral calculus.JPG

So stop and think where we’re all heading as the most invasive, right wing Government I’ve ever lived under looks set to consolidate its grip on Westminster.  As their high priestess said “There  is no alternative”.  For Brengland this looks like the truth.  But there is an alternative for Scotland.  We’ve just got to be brave.

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Much ado about nothing….

…’coz I’ve not blogged anything for a couple of weeks. Kind of been on holiday I guess. What’s been happening?

The UK economy is still in dire straits. The £/$ exchange rate is still down to what looks like it’s going to be a longer term level for the ££.  OK so the FTSE100 and the FTSE250 are back to the levels they were at before the EU vote, but the Bank of England has just reduced interest rates and started another round of giving the banks money.  That has worked sooooo well for all of us in the past hasn’t it?    Sure the banks are still in business (are they really, truly successful bussineses ?)  RBS doesn’t seem to be. We’re almost a decade on from the great crash when it was near-nationalised and still it’s making Billions of £££ of losses.   Under what principle of capitalism is this rational?  A business which can’t make a profit should close – isn’t that what our capitalist economy is all about?  Except for banks which are “too big to fail”.   But steel industries are allowed to fail.

To keep any readers I may have entertained may I point you in the direction of the always excellent blogs by Grouse Beater?   Here he writes on the lunacy of nuclear weapons.  https://grousebeater.wordpress.com/2016/08/05/the-folly-of-nuclear-war/

More to follow next week.

Brexit Blues

A friend pointed me to this article: Brexit Blues by John Lanchester on the London Review of Books website.  You can find it here:  (or here if you wish to cut’n’paste : http://www.lrb.co.uk/v38/n15/john-lanchester/brexit-blues).

It’s an excellent piece which highlights many of the problems we’re now facing after the vote to leave the EU.  Well worth a few moments of reading and then a further few moments reflecting on it.

We’ve got a lot of work to do, just to stand still or even to get back to where we were before the vote.  I’m not certain that this has been recognised across society yet.  The “leave” campaign evoked all the jingoistic images of Britain standing tall, alone against the world.  But that’s just an unreal image of a time which can’t come back (if it ever existed at all).   It also had a society which was united.  Now its fractured along so many lines (political, class, nationality, religion, etc) that I find it hard to see how it can be joined together to do all the work that needs to be done.