In a lecture last year, Sir Nicholas Macpherson, HM Treasury permanent secretary and perhaps the most powerful old Etonian in Britain, explained the “Origins of Treasury control”. Sir Nicholas said that Treasury’s power came from three sources: conflict, links to Parliament and being able to outwit the rest of officialdom. All three were in evidence this morning, as George Osborne cited his top official’s advice and told Scots they can have independence or the pound – but not both.
An independent Scotland would be refused entry to a monetary union with the rest of the UK, according to reports on Wednesday. George Osborne, Ed Balls and Danny Alexander – a Cerberus of currency doom – are later this week expected to individually reject the Scottish National party’s proposal for a formal sterling union. I do not know whether this means a monetary union would be ruled out under any circumstances – but words being used by those involved in the interventions include “definitive” and “emphatic”. So far, the chancellor has said that a monetary union would be “very difficult”.
“Equality of What?” asked Amartya Sen in 1979. The question pithily captures the defining debate of the political left. On Monday evening, in his Hugo Young speech, Ed Miliband gave an answer to Sen’s question: (nearly) everything.
Of course, the most important chart for this particular episode is not one showing Defra spending but the one showing average rainfall. Nevertheless, I find the story of flood defences indicative of the coalition government’s approach to public spending.
Here, as in other areas, it seeks to make up central government shortfalls with local or private spending. This might be a perfectly sensible or unfortunately necessary idea but it is disingenuous to present it as increased government spending. Flood defence spending also looks like a good case of a missed chance for public investment.
The UK energy secretary has written to the energy market regulator and the nascent Competition and Markets Authority – two of the three institutions reviewing competition in the energy market, an area of intense public and political interest – suggesting that Centrica is making too much money in its domestic gas supply business.
Frey and Osborne’s work knowingly complements The Second Machine Age, a much-cited book by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee. Brynjolfsson and McAfee argue that “computers and other digital advances are doing for mental power … what the steam engine and its descendants did for physical power”.
If the various authors are right, then many of the assumptions regarding how labour markets will change are wrong. This could have major consequences for economic and social policy – and for politics more broadly.
The Scots who have yet to make up their minds ahead of September’s referendum are the most important people in Britain. They will decide whether the 307-year old political union will come to an end. In the third of our videos for the FT’s Scotland series, I tried to figure out who they are and what they want.
At times it can seem there are more data released on Scotland and independence than there are caramel wafers made by the Tunnock’s factory. Below are some of the charts I find most useful when thinking about independence. I have pulled them all together here. The last two charts are almost certainly the most important.
The FT’s “If Scotland goes” series includes three short videos. In the first, I looked at the changing nature of Scottish nationalism. The second, available below, considers whether the pro-union campaign is making enough of an emotional case; Better Together has focused on practical issues ahead of the independence referendum.
This is perfectly sensible: the economy is the most important issue in the referendum. And when asked by pollsters, Scots typically express a dual identity, feeling both Scottish and British. Still, travelling around Scotland, I could not help but notice the enthusiasm gap between nationalists and unionists.
One Sunday last year I was walking through London Fields and a pretty couple stopped and asked if I would like to buy some Camembert. They had a bicycle and a basket and a baguette and French accents. I have been offered more exotic bootleg goods in Hackney but this was a pleasant, if suspiciously stereotypical, reminder of the growth in London’s French community.