Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Full Fiscal Autonomy?

During the Scottish Referendum campaign, the question of a sterling currency union was controversial. There were claims that the pound was as much Scottish as English, which were true but which cunningly sidestepped the fact that the pound is not English either. It is the currency of The United Kingdom.

In previous posts on this blog I have discussed the difficulties that are bound to beset two economies of disparate size and structure that attempt to share a common currency. I concluded that the Chancellor was right to rule out a currency union between the UK and an independent Scotland.

Current discussion about Full Fiscal Autonomy for Scotland has so far failed to recognise the same currency problem dressed up in different words. What will happen when a single UK monetary policy is undermined by a fiscally autonomous Scotland adopting a borrow-and-spend stance whilst UK policy is still following a strategy of deficit reduction?

The answer is to be seen in the continuing Eurozone crisis. Under the monetary aegis of Germany, Greece, with Full Fiscal Autonomy because nobody respected the European Stability and Growth Pact, borrowed excessively because borrowing was far too cheap relative to the performance of the Greek economy.

In consequence for Greece the financial crisis of 2008 speedily became a debt crisis. This week's efforts are but the latest attempt by the Eurozone leaders to kick the can down the road one more time, still without addressing the fundamental absurdity of linking Germany and Greece within the straitjacket of a common currency.

It should not have escaped anyone's attention that the Greeks blame the Germans for not lending them more, whilst the Germans are tired of what they see as Greek profligacy. Is it really very difficult to look a little way into the future and see insults being traded between the Scottish and UK governments in remarkably similar circumstances?

The oil revenues that were to be the foundation of Scottish solvency now look like pie in the sky and no-one has much idea how to plug the huge pending revenue shortfall. Vague appeals to the extra revenue that economic growth might yield in the longer term, even if they turn out to be more than just wishful thinking, cannot hide the fact that in the short term Scotland must either tax or borrow heavily, or more likely both.

Full Fiscal Autonomy is incompatible with a common currency. Before our half-baked, less than half thought-through devolution process goes anywhere near it we need a clear, written federal settlement and firm fiscal constraints upon the budgets of all UK member states.

Monday, 15 June 2015

The Culloch Burn

The Culloch Burn is a stream which flows into the River Avon in Slamannan, a village in the middle of Sliabh Mannan.  The Stirlingshire Avon is unconnected, except by name, with the considerably more famous river running through Shakespeare's Stratford.  In fact the name Avon derives directly from the Celtic word for river and there are several examples of the unimaginatively named 'River River' throughout the United Kingdom.

Although the village is more than 400 feet above sea level it lies in a natural basin in Sliabh Mannan, meaning the only ways out are all uphill. In consequence the lowest parts lie within a natural floodplain and any drainage bottleneck is vulnerable to being overwhelmed after heavy rain.

People who do not live near the headwaters of upland streams find it hard to take warnings against flooding seriously, as I have had occasion to remind local Council planners before now.

The above photograph shows the Culloch in a dry season. That's right, you can't see it. You can however see its banks just behind the electricity pole. You might even wonder how such a little burn has cut so deep a channel and why constant erosion is regularly changing its winding course.

An official will come out on a sunny summer day, observe this trickle of water and condemn as fantasists your correspondent and others who advise them to be careful when zoning areas for housing development.  Such a feeble watercourse, he thinks, could not flood a child's paddling pool.

Well the next photograph shows what can happen if it rains for a couple of days. You can still see the long rushes that mark the course of the Culloch, but now the burn is about a hundred yards wide because it has burst its banks and inundated the flood plain. 

Turn left from where the first two pictures were taken and you can just make out the outskirts of Slamannan, towards which the Culloch is flowing.  It is there where it joins the Avon as, in normal circumstances, a tiny tributary of a small river.

But when the Culloch looks like this, the confluence obviously poses more of a problem.

Now imagine what is likely to happen if additional housing were to be constructed on the southern outskirts of Slamannan, increasing the flow of surface water by reducing natural absorbency and also increasing domestic drainage into a system as volatile as this.

You're right.  Not smart.  So if in spite of my advice such developments go ahead, please remember:


Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Passage of Time

When I first began writing short stories, I made several entries in the Aeon Award Contest run by Ireland's Albedo One Magazine. One of these stories made the quarterly shortlist and I promptly jumped to the erroneous conclusion that I had cracked this short story writing business.

In fact of course I still had an awful lot to learn; there is a considerable gulf between the literary demands of novel writing and those of short stories.  It took a year between my first published piece of flash fiction Elementary Mechanics and my first published short story, Spatchcock. There followed another ten months before The Old Man on The Green.

Of the four acceptances that I received earlier this year, two have so far been published and two are still awaiting publication. The queue awaiting a public airing have now, I am pleased to say, been joined by another story, Passage of Time which will finally take me back very close to where I started when it is published in Albedo 2.

This is my first acceptance outside North America, so with luck I am getting closer to being published at home, though of course the market in the UK is small and opportunities far fewer.

Passage of Time will be my first published story set (at least partly) aboard a space ship. I wouldn't really call it a space opera, since most of the conflict portrayed in the tale takes place upon Earth. However it does feel as though I'm getting closer to my ideal of being an all-round speculative writer.

By the way, I do write non-speculative stories too. So far none have made it to publication, but a couple have been competitively placed and I hope may yet see the light of printed day.