Monthly Archives: January 2014

On Wednesday, Mark Carney made a speech about the issues an independent Scotland would have to consider if it were to seek a currency union with the rest of the UK.

Although the Bank of England governor insisted that his remarks were of the technocratic variety, their political implication was obvious: a currency union would require the ceding of sovereignty by the newly independent country. There would need to be a banking union, “shared fiscal arrangements” and an agreement over how the BoE would provide facilities to Scottish banks as lender of last resort. The history of the eurozone gave Mr Carney’s speech its context; it was one of the best that Jean-Claude Trichet never gave. Read more

On Saturday, Ed Balls announced that a Labour government would bring back the 50 per cent tax rate on incomes over £150,000. His main justification is that it would raise more revenue than government estimates suggest. Is the shadow chancellor correct? Read more

James lived with his father in a council flat in Edinburgh. He was 17 years old but a hormone deficiency and malnutrition made him look 12. His reading age was lower still. I was his “support worker”, a job I took during holidays from university. My goal was to help James become “autonomous”, according to the Action Group, my employer; the charity works with young people to find them employment, further education and safe housing.

I failed. On a good day, James and I would tidy the flat to an incongruous soundtrack of Dolly Parton, his favourite singer, and we might – might – fill out a college application. On an exceptional day we went to a college. But on most days we went backwards. I would spend my shift calculating how much James’s father had stolen of his son’s benefits, or trying to get through to a James numbed by Ritalin or keeping him away from gangs. I left angry with myself, with James’s parents, with him and at what I called the “system”. Read more

On Thursday evening, George Osborne said that “I think Britain can afford a higher minimum wage”. Reports suggest that the chancellor would like to see the rate paid to adults over 21 years-old rise to £7 per hour from £6.31 per hour, a jump that could benefit more than 3m employees, at least according to this estimate. Read more

At least since Michael Goldfarb’s incendiary op-ed in the New York Times, there has been discussion about a “great exodus” from London. This chart shows that there is nothing new in recent history about net internal emigration from the capital; young people come for work and to find love, and they leave – if everything goes to plan – with a job, a mortgage adviser, and a partner.  Read more

What do Britons really think about immigration? The subject is rarely away from the news, including the truth-promising BBC. But I find it hard to untangle the fabric of hysteria.

In recent report, Ipsos-Mori, a polling firm, assembles a lot of data about attitudes to immigration. It provides a clear yet nuanced account of public opinion. Below, I have selected the 20 charts I found most telling about Britain and immigration. Read more

When I was eight or nine I was given a digital “sports” watch. The Casio F-91W is cheap and hardy, with black plastic straps and an octagonal face. It can tell the date and time to the nearest second. Its alarm emits tinny bleeps. But the claims made for its sportiness are exaggerated. As a land-based child, I was excited to learn that the F-91W claims “water resistance” at a depth of 30m. Thirty! I dreamt of taking my sleek timepiece on scuba dives. That is, until I read on; “not safe for snorkelling”, the manual said.

My scepticism of “wearable technology” runs deeper than my old Casio’s water resistance. This is not only because in 2011 it emerged that al-Qaeda had used the F-91W in making a slapdash bomb – a surreal reminder that technology is often morally neutral. No, it is because I am sceptical of the wearers of wearable tech gadgets, including myself. We ask too much of technology and too little of ourselves; we expect the digital watch to turn us into scuba divers. Read more

In the previous post I wrote about the reasons why a rise in Britain’s minimum wage is being reviewed by the main political parties.

Here, again drawing on the work of the Resolution Foundation and the Institute for Fiscal Studies, I suggest the options for how the minimum wage could be increased. Read more

The astute observer will have noticed that a policy promising to detoxify the Conservative brand, improve living standards, and reduce the benefits bill, is likely to have some problems, regardless of what form the rise takes. The biggest employers of low wage labour are hardly clamouring to support a living wage. A higher minimum wage is not a direct substitute for tax credits and in-work benefits. But there is a growing consensus that the minimum wage could and should be increased – and the Conservatives seem to preparing a gran pf this traditional Labour territory.  Read more

The little known fifth series of Blackadder takes place in the department for education. Blackadder is the secretary of state. In this scene, he is joined by his two special advisers – Baldrick and George. Read more

This morning, the chancellor announced that there would be a further £25bn of spending cuts by 2017-18, and that in order to not increase the pace of current departmental spending cuts, a further £12bn would have to be eliminated from the “welfare” budget.

The Venn diagram from Flip Chart Fairy Tales summarises the choice facing Mr Osborne, and includes an apocalyptic assumption about the collapse of some public services. At the Autumn Statement, by targeting a return to surplus in 2018-19, the chancellor implicitly committed himself to finding about an additional £25bn in savings or revenue.  Read more

When triumphant supporters of Colorado’s legalisation of recreational marijuana tried to organise a celebratory party, they called it Cannabition. Perhaps weed makes puns funny. Regardless, the evocation of the prohibition era is apt; there are parallels between the treatment of alcohol in the period from 1920-33 and that of marijuana today. Read more

The FT is running a week-long series entitled “If Scotland goes“. As well as an interview with Alex Salmond, Scotland’s first minister, there will be news, opinion and analysis concerning the independence referendum.

For my part, here is the first of three short videos filmed last week. I argue that Scottish nationalism – note the small ‘n’ – is often caricatured. It is not the tartan-clad, Braveheart-quoting jingoism of stereotype. It is, ahem, a post-modern nationalism with some pre-modern symbols: dependent more on sentiment and residence than on ethnicity and language, hallmarks of 20th century nationalisms. Read more