Gordon Ramsay, Bob Diamond and Prisons

 

Having recently completed the Three Peaks Challenge I consider myself an expert on punishment.  Aside from the physical exertion, the challenge forced me to spend around 48 hours in close contact with two friends.  It would not be unfair to say that some of the conditions Gordon Ramsay saw when he visited HMP Brixton were luxurious in comparison.  For starters, they are at least dry.

Titled ‘Gordon Behind Bars’ and available on 4OD, the series follows TV Chef Gordon Ramsay on his mission to set up a food business within Brixton prison and get prisoners to pay something back into the system.  For some viewers, the conditions found within HMP Brixton will no doubt have raised a few eyebrows.  Complete with televisions, PlayStations and personal items some cells are comparable to the average teenager’s bedroom.

Indeed, one prisoner arrogantly told Gordon that “it’s an easier life in jail than it is outside.  In here you’ve got everything done for you.”  Given five meal choices each day, access to taxpayer funded degree courses and a plethora of other rehabilitation options the contrast with the thousands of students taking out massive loans for higher education study and living in relative poverty is an obvious one.

It is clear that I am not an expert with regards to the issue of whether prisoners should be shown the cooler or the path to rehabilitation.  Whilst my gut tells me that prisoners should learn to deal with the consequences of their actions and be fed no more than stale bread and water, the reality of the situation is that some people do genuinely need help.  Often victims of their surroundings, it is a well-known fact that more than 50% of all crime is committed by reoffenders.  Aside from the emotional impact upon the victims of crime it must be noted that this constant reoffending is costing the taxpayer a fortune.  When it is considered that this fortune is actually £2 billion a year (or £38 000 per prisoner per year) any new attempts to reduce the reoffending rate should not be scoffed at as the system is clearly currently failing.

Of course, most victims of crime are not interested in the offender’s emotional stability.  For many, even the most extreme implementation of Sharia law would be too soft, this especially true for the majority of the British population when the offender is identified to be a City of London investment banker or hedge fund manager.  Whilst ‘banker-bashing’ is a recent, popular and potentially destructive national pastime, there is a growing fear that a ‘two-tier’ justice system is developing; one in which the poor are doomed to a life of prison, crime and reoffending whereas the wealthy are able to dodge severe punishment through political connections and the hiring of ludicrously expensive lawyers.

This was a point stressed by John Lydon on BBC Question Time only a few weeks ago.  Arguing that wealthy bankers, corrupt politicians and caviar guzzling chief executives were above the reach of the law, Lydon clumsily concluded the mood of much of the nation.  And despite his desperate attempt to incite a revolution and appeal to the masses, Lydon does have a valid argument which can now be investigated whilst public attention is temporarily refocused upon the London Olympics.

Take for instance the recent LIBOR banking scandal.  Having taken the Western financial world by storm, estimated to have caused $1.5 trillion damage and increased misery to millions of ordinary mortgage payers the total theft is likely to be the largest fraud operation ever seen within the market to date.  And as of the 30th July 2012, not one person has been arrested.  Aside from the Chief Executive of Barclays, Bob Diamond, resigning and being asked to appear before the Treasury Select Committee on July 4th, the only other punishment has been a record breaking fine imposed by regulators in both the United Kingdom and United States.  Whilst severe, the £290 million fine is only a fraction of the £4.2 billion profits that Barclays has made so far this year.

Conversely, the action taken against those at the other end of the spectrum is far more severe in comparison.  After stealing £3.50 worth of bottled water during the London riots in the summer of 2011 electrical engineering student Nicolas Robinson was jailed for six months.  Whilst his actions are impossible to defend, the ‘two-tier’ system Lydon refers to could not be more obvious.  Should the law be applied equally Bob Diamond, half the Barclays board and several key bankers involved in the scandal would be serving lifetime sentences within a maximum security prison.

Despite the above, this article should in no way be seen as promoting proletarian uprising.   Infact I suspect that both wealthy and poor criminals have more things in common than a desire to act dishonestly.  Whilst interviewing one of the prisoners in HMP Brixton, inmate Lawrence Gibbons claimed that he didn’t care ‘about any of the victims’ in any of the cases he had been involved in throughout his 45 year existence.

What are the odds that Bob Diamond feels the same?

Advertisements

When I grow up I want to be a…

Binman.

Well, that’s what the five year old me used to say.  And after that obsession fizzled out I triumphantly declared that I wanted be a pilot.  Unfortunately the closest I ever got to that dream was tying the dog to the back of an aeroplane shaped climbing frame in the park and pretending to fly to some exotic and far flung destination.  The realities of life soon set in.

At secondary school you could ask me the above question and I would not be able to give a meaningful answer.  Infact, if you’d have asked me the same question at my university graduation I would have again have struggled to give a meaningful answer.  It was only after a disastrous foray into a company which promised better things that my mind was sharpened enough to actually sit down and think about my future.  And even now, I only have an aim.  The effects of a bitter financial crisis, double-dip recession, austerity and the Leveson Inquiry could quite easily conspire to derail my future plans at any given time.  After all, print journalism is a dying trade and thanks to News International journalists are only a couple of notches above bankers and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the global hate index.

Anyway, that is all beside the point.  For many people their ambitions and dreams have been placed on ice since the 2008 financial crisis.  A deep recession, low growth and biting austerity measures across the Western hemisphere have created a sickening cocktail which has plunged an entire generation into despair.  Currently, over 1 million people in the United Kingdom under the age of 25 are unemployed.  Countless more are still living at home and working dead-end jobs, biding their time and praying for that elusive opportunity to appear.  However, does the shock election of Francois Hollande offer a glimmer of hope to the millions negatively affected by a crisis which was created in a distant land and paid for by their taxes?

At first glance, it does.  Francois Hollande has explicitly stated that he is “the President of the youth of France.”  Standing against European and Western austerity, Hollande has spoken passionately throughout his election campaign and promised to refocus EU financial efforts from austerity to growth.  Although vague, current ‘radical’ policies of Hollande include the creation of 60 000 new education posts, a ‘squeeze on the rich’ and the implementation of a 75% tax rate for the super rich.  When combined with the complete Greek rejection of austerity are the troika demands for deficit reduction, austerity and tax rises dead in the water?  After all, it does pay for the currency sharing European nations to row in the same direction and strive to avoid the potential implosion of the Eurozone.

Unfortunately even with the election of Francois Hollande the policy of European wide austerity is far from dead.  Constrained by the very same financial markets that created the economic crisis and with French public sector spending currently accounting for around 57% of GDP, Hollande will undoubtedly be forced to continue with many of the policies laid out by his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy.  Quite simply, the unvarnished truth is that France must find 18 billion Euros of cuts by next year to maintain favourable to the markets and keep bond yields below the psychological danger zone of 7%.  And, as a reminder for those who think the impact of the markets is overhyped it is worth remembering that they have already helped to claim the scalp of several European governments; including that of the infamous Italian Lazarus, Silvio Berlusconi.

It is therefore highly likely that once the hype around Hollande and his ‘rejection of austerity’ has died down the new French President will be limited to making a few token populist gestures; paid for by the increased taxation of the rich.  As if to reiterate this point, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has already fired a shot across the bow of the new socialist President, warning that any previously agreed fiscal compacts were ‘not up for grabs.’

So, how does the recent European ‘rejection of austerity’ affect the millions of families across Britain who are struggling to make ends meet and the hundreds of thousands of well-educated young people unable to find a job with a promising career?  The simple answer is that it doesn’t.  Well, not really anyway.

Infact, to many of the public the only signs of any European spending will come from seeing a more confident Ed Miliband and subsequently resurgent New Labour exploiting the small benefits that any increased spending by a socialist President will no doubt bring.  And also obviously Francois Hollande is the President of the Republic of France and not the United Kingdom.  Aside from a few minor concessions on controversial tax issues such as the ‘granny tax’ and ‘pasty tax,’ it is highly unlikely that Osborne and Cameron will make a U-turn to dramatically increase spending.  Such an approach was confirmed only earlier today in the annual Queen’s speech and an Andrew Marr interview in which Osborne laughably declared that “the national mood is now very much behind the deficit plan.”

Evidently people aren’t.  Especially if you’re a pasty-eating pensioner with large savings and an unemployed grandchild.


Held over a barrel

‘Without fuel, they were nothing. They built a house of straw. The thundering machines sputtered and stopped. Their leaders talked and talked and talked. But nothing could stem the avalanche. Their world crumbled. The cities exploded. A whirlwind of looting, a firestorm of fear.’

No, I have not gone mad.  The above is actually the opening narrative to Mad Max 2, although with the long lines of vehicles forming queues across the United Kingdom and panic stricken motorists greedily filling any available container with fuel last week a historian working centuries in the future would be forgiven for thinking that these events actually did happen in March and April, 2012.   I am of course referring to the self-made fuel shortages that have dominated the national new spectrum for the past two weeks.  With so much press attention currently fixed only upon the scenes seen at petrol station forecourts and government incompetence, what is all the fuss about?

Well, in the first instance the fuel shortage crisis began when the fuel tanker drivers became disillusioned with their employers.  Citing concerns over pay, health and safety laws, pensions and an increasingly harsh working environment, the drivers turned to their representative Union, Unite.  Although talks were held over the last year these were unproductive and tanker drivers were instead balloted over strike action.  Signalling ‘overwhelming’ support in favour of strike action, the drivers refrained from announcing when a potential strike would take place, instead using the threat of strike action as a far more effective tool for gaining media attention.  Whilst most members of the public were oblivious to the developing crisis others began to panic buy, filling their tanks and stockpiling fuel having remembered the catastrophic consequences of the year 2000 fuel strikes within the United Kingdom.

It was at this stage that Whitehall chose to offer advice to motorists – even though a strike had yet to be confirmed and the panic buying elements of the public were currently in the minority.  On the 28th March, 2012, Cabinet Minister Frances Maude publicly stated on Sky News that people should take ‘sensible precautions’ and maintain a jerry can full of fuel at home.  Instantly criticised by the Fire Brigades Union this advice was later withdrawn for being incorrect and potentially unsafe.  However, with social media as the catalyst the damage had already been done; forecourts were swamped with motorists looking to fill their tanks and shops such as the motoring giant Halfords were reporting that jerry can sales had increased by 600%.

So, having created mass panic with the mere threat of striking do Unite and the tanker drivers have a legitimate reason to strike?  At a first glance it would appear that they do not.  Whilst fuel tanker driving is unquestionably an extremely dangerous job and Unite has insisted that the strike is not about pay, it should be noted that the drivers are paid an average of £45 000 per year and that all have been offered an extra £250 bonus for two hours extra work per day to resolve any shortages at petrol stations.  For many families who are struggling to contend with rising fuel, food and living prices, reports of such wages have only served to alienate large chunks of public support.

However, this does not mean that we should adopt a Thatcher-esque mentality and prepare for a protracted and bitter dispute simply because these people are well paid.  Neither should we follow the example of American ex-President Ronald Reagan and sack all strikers, replacing them with military staff as a temporary measure.  Instead, we should accept that the tanker drivers and Unite do have a valid and legitimate argument.

Although vague in their Health and Safety demands, it is unquestionable that Health and Safety should be paramount in any job, within reason.  Aside from the armed forces and other well-known dangerous jobs, employees should not have to fear that their lives and the lives of others are in danger because of cost cutting.  Clearly, if the drivers of vehicles laden with more than 40 000 litres of highly combustible liquid are concerned that lessons from the 2005 Buncefield Oil Refinery disaster have not been studied and recommendations implemented they undoubtedly have reason to strike provided that they have followed the correct grievances procedure.

The aftermath of the 2005 Buncefield Oil Depot explosion

Additionally, the tanker drivers are concerned over pensions.  Due to the way that contacts are managed, some drivers have had three changes of employer in a year; this often affecting pension schemes as different contracts allow for different entitlements.  For companies reporting profits that are measured in tens of billions, not millions, this is unfair.  Surely such vast and profitable companies should be able to offer employees a certain amount of stability so that they can effectively plan for the future?

Ultimately talks are being held this week by the conciliation service ACAS to try and resolve the crisis before a flashpoint is reached.  Provided that the issues raised are not merely a smokescreen for bartering and increased pay the tanker drivers and Unite obviously have my support, for now.  However, I would like to stress that my support is not unwavering.  Evidently, our battered and fragile economy cannot currently afford to take risks and when holding important jobs which both metaphorically and literally ‘fuel’ Western civilisation, the drivers and unions should learn to be far more responsible.  Striking must remain a last resort and treated with the same level of caution with which the President of the United States treats the American nuclear arsenal.  They would be wise remembering that politics and public sympathy can soon change.

After all, it is an unearned privilege that 2062 people are able to hold the entire country to ransom.


Penguins, Princes and Crude Oil

Home to an estimated 500 000 penguins and until recently Prince William the Falkland Islands have an undeniably rich military history and even rich biodiversity.  Uninhabited by humans until the 16th Century, the ownership of the islands has been bitterly contested for generations between European powers in their quest for Empire and riches.

Situated only 300 miles from the Falkland capital Stanley, Argentina has regularly peddled the claim that the Falkland Islands (or Islas Malvinas in Argentina) and their inhabitants belong to Argentina.  Although vociferously refuted by the British government Argentina has refused to modify its stance throughout the years on such grandiose claims; this infamously culminating in the unsuccessful 1982 invasion in which 649 Argentinian and 255 British military personnel lost their lives.

Whilst still reeling from the events of 1982 Argentina is far from silenced.  Indeed, Buenos Aires is currently engaged in a severe diplomatic (and increasingly confrontational) spat with the United Kingdom.  Why?

At face value the answer is surprisingly simple.  Rocked by domestic problems, Argentina under President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has suffered from an agonising inflation rate that is among the highest in the world.  Estimated at around 25% per year, only the modern day dictatorships of Venezuela and Belarus can compete in worldwide rankings.  Furthermore President Kirchner has authorised a clamp down on Argentinian media by limiting the importation of newsprint to ‘authorised’ publishers and expanding controls over the content journalists can cover.  And in a final draconian sweep Kirchner has recently introduced a new ‘Terror Law;’ this allowing the state to imprison people for up to 15 years when convicted for a variety of trivial ‘offences’ that range from marching in protests to pulling money from banks in a highly probable economic crisis.

Faced with such unpopularity and domestic criticism, the Argentine government has developed a novel solution which centres almost solely on the Falklands.  Knowing that any rhetoric contesting the sovereignty of the Falklands maintains support, President Kirchner has chosen to whip up a frenzy of anti-British sentiment within Argentina.

Citing the recent stationing of Prince William in the Falklands as a Search and Rescue pilot, President Kirchner has lambasted the British government by declaring that such a stationing is a policy of militarisation by ‘a crude colonial power in decline.’  In retaliation UK Prime Minister David Cameron has blasted Argentina for pursuing a ‘policy of confrontation,’ simultaneously causing outcry in Buenos Aires by suggesting that Argentina’s claim to the Falkland Islands is a form of colonialism.

It should be noted that this diplomatic bickering is nothing new.  Since the formation of the United Nations in 1945 Argentina has attacked Britain both diplomatically, economically and militarily.  Likewise, the United Kingdom has largely done the same.  However, what is concerning Whitehall this time is the ferocity and extent of Argentine action.  For the first time since 1982, there is a fear that Argentina has lit the fuse of a political powder keg which has the potential to alter the balance of the entire region.

In addition to economic embargoes, diplomatic spats and legal intimidation, President Kirchner has succeeded in cajoling several high profile South American nations such as Peru, Chile and Brazil into an anti-British pact.  For example, only last month it was confirmed that several South American nations had been persuaded to turn away Falklands-flagged vessels from their ports.  Furthermore, in a recent high profile move Peru cancelled a scheduled visit by the Royal Navy frigate HMS Montrose as an act of solidarity with Argentina in its dispute with the UK over the Falkland Islands.

Although the Falkland Islands are believed to be virtually impenetrable in Western military circles, the recent British Strategic Defence and Security Review undertaken by the ruling coalition government has no doubt emboldened President Kirchner’s resolve.  Likewise, comments from high-profile Major Generals regarding current British Royal Naval capabilities have almost certainly not helped deter any Argentinian threat.  For many though, the increased Argentine threats and blustering regarding the Falklands have little to do with past grievances or a lack of British military clout.  Instead, the highly charged dispute has emerged due to the recent discovery of vast amounts of commercially viable oil – in 2010 Rockhopper Exploration announced that their preliminary Sea Lion well was commercially viable and that the oil was of a good enough quality to extract.

Showcasing the British ‘fair play’ mentality, the government had offered to share some oil revenue with the Argentinian government – even after the most recent threats.  Of course, to a faltering Argentine economy playing hardball to get the best deal possible is a valid strategy.  Flush with ‘free’ money, President Kirchner would be in a position to offer industry and individuals financial incentives as a means of ensuring political dominance.  In a country with severe economic and political problems such an outcome would no doubt be extremely well received.

Oil: the real reason Argentina is interested in the Falkland Islands

So, despite all the doom and gloom how is the situation likely to play out regarding the Falklands?

Well, it is blindingly obvious that the UK Government will not surrender the islands to Argentina without a fight.  This is not only because the islanders have insisted on numerous occasions that they wish to remain British and under the protection of the United Kingdom, but also because no British government could survive losing the Falklands as they have become a totem of British foreign policy.  David Cameron has more or less explicitly stated this policy by clearly maintaining that there will be no negotiation on the status of the Falklands.  In the meantime Argentina is likely to continue their policy of confrontation for the foreseeable future, or at least until meaningful negotiations are entered into regarding oil extraction and the 30th anniversary milestone of the invasion has passed.

Although grim, this does not mean that we should expect a military confrontation.  The dispatching of HMS Dauntless and unconfirmed reports that British submarines patrol the area are designed to deter aggression – not provoke it – whilst the stationing of Prince William on the islands for 6 weeks has given the conflict an international audience with a British bias.   It is also worth noting that Britain and the EU are quietly making it known to Argentina’s South American allies that trade sanctions work two ways.

This is not exactly gunboat diplomacy.  But it is effective.


Loadsamoney!

For my own self-preservation I should probably start by making it known that I do not follow football.  Unless I am playing (badly), football is not something which appeals to me.  Add to this the fact that so-called Premier League ‘superstars’ are paid hundreds of thousands of pounds a week for what seems like quite a charmed life and it is unlikely that I will ever become a convert.

Before every avid football follower kicks off, take for instance the recently announced news regarding Didier Drogba.  As the star of the Chelsea team, Drogba has no doubt been instrumental in helping Chelsea to win numerous Cups, titles and trophies.  And as a trouble-free and committed player, Drogba is seen as a good role model to football mad youngsters who dream of competing on a professional level.  However, despite such accolades should one man be worth the eye-watering £270 000 a week that the Chinese football club Shanghai Shenhua were rumoured to be signing him for?  In a country where poverty is widespread and the average person only earns $5000, the suggested wages are astronomically ridiculous.

I do not doubt that a career as a footballer is hard work.  For every successful Premier League footballer there will be thousands of others desperate to take his place – the effort required to remain at the top of the game and away from the piranhas below is substantial.  By the very nature of the career being a sport, a footballer needs to remain physically fit, free from injury and eat relatively healthy foods.  Again though, does this really justify such a substantial wage?  Many ‘ordinary’ people eat healthily, keep fit and participate in sport without the need for payment.  They simply play for the sheer pleasure of playing.  Likewise, Championship players are paid nowhere near as much for an almost identical role.

Despite being in the depths of the worst financial crisis since 1929, some English clubs are now awash with Arab oil money and investing heavily in players; often paying wages which even before the economic crisis would have been classed as absurd.  Wayne Rooney is purported to be on around £250 000 a week.  Fernando Torres receives an estimated weekly wage of £220 000 and Manchester City’s Yaya Toure earns £220 000 a week.  For Manchester City, the wage demands of players in 2010 led to them spending an estimated 107% of their annual revenue on player salaries.

It has been argued by some that this focus on money has made the game inaccessible to ordinary families and unsustainable in the long run.  With the cheapest adult match tickets now priced at an average of around £35 to see a top-flight football match, the decline in the number of families attending games has been remarkable.  Instead of the family occasion it used to be, it could be argued football has now become a Saturday afternoon jolly; one dominated by wealthy professionals, corporate sponsors and devout followers from the working class.

It is somewhat ironic then that some of the wealthiest people choose to participate in a game played by 22 people and containing thugs such as Joey Barton and Wayne Rooney.  As the ‘star’ midfielder for QPR, Barton has been accused and convicted of common assault and actual bodily harm, yet still manages to commandeer a weekly wage of £60 000.  For a man universally disliked, is he really worth twice as much per week than the average soldier, fire fighter, police officer or nurse is paid in a year?

Joey Barton. Is this serial brawler really worth £60 000 a week?

It is not just footballers who share the unfortunate perception of being overpaid and out of touch.  Within the City of London, executive pay can often reach stratospheric amounts.  As former Chief Executive of the Royal Bank of Scotland, Sir Fred Goodwin oversaw the meteoric expansion of the bank.  Conversely, because of the actions he took as Chief Executive, Sir Fred Goodwin also oversaw the largest annual loss in UK corporate history; an estimated £24bn.  However, despite his failings resulting in RBS requiring a financial bailout from the taxpayer, Goodwin was awarded with a severance package and pension deal worth an estimated £16m.  The reward for failure had never looked so good.

So, can this be solved?  In the wake of recent public outrage the Coalition government has promised to investigate excessive executive pay.  However, before the righteous get excited it is unlikely that action will be taken because without global agreement, any action to limit executive pay would just be a shambolic and damaging gesture of goodwill designed to appease struggling families.  Legislation would simply force investment abroad, creating further problems for an already economically bruised Britain.

We should also be uneasy about the idea of government intervention to limit top executive pay.  To intervene would have all the hallmarks of a Stalinist state.  It would also risk opening the door to further government intervention regarding pay and bonuses – this affecting the very core of Western civilisation and the capitalist system on which we all depend.

The solution may be much simpler.  Perhaps executives, footballers and high earners should just adopt some common sense and implement some morals.


Alex Salmond: Freedom Fighter

The future flag of the United Kingdom?

The rebels in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt would not exactly call him a ‘comrade in arms.’  Hollywood would no doubt decline any offer to create a movie documenting his ‘struggle,’ and apart from his arrogance he shares little in common with William Wallace.  I am of course referring to Alex Salmond – leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), Scottish First Minister and chief antagonist in the push for Scottish independence.

With the referendum date now pencilled in for 2014, who exactly is Alex Salmond, what do the SNP want and how will it all play out?

Famously protective of his private life, Alex Salmond was born in Linlithgow, Scotland and is married with no children.  Able to trace his ancestry to before the 1707 Acts of Union between England and Scotland, Salmond studied economics and history at the University of Saint Andrews.  Upon graduation, he pursued a career as an economist.

Unlike his private life, much more is known about Salmond’s political beliefs.  As a fierce left-wing supporter of Scottish independence, Salmond’s political career almost ended spectacularly early when he was suspended from the SNP due to his support and involvement in the radical socialist republican 79 Group.  As can be seen from this song the group are hardly politically liberal, open minded election material.  However, by 1987, Salmond had been able to claw his way back into the SNP, defeating the Conservative MP Albert McQuarrie in a local election.  It is here that his stratospheric rise through the ranks of the SNP began.

Appointed as SNP Deputy Leader in 1987, Salmond took advantage of the power vacuum within the party in 1990 by standing for and winning the leadership election.  Throughout the 1990s he was heavily critical of Westminster whilst maintaining heavy involvement in supporting policies promoting Scottish devolution.  However, by 1999 Salmond had resigned after facing a virtual media blackout, heavy criticism and the full force of Westminster for a number of political blunders including opposing the NATO bombing of Serbia through likening it to the Nazi German bombing of Glasgow.

Despite this, it was in 2004 that Alex Salmond had once again clawed his way back into the SNP and public eye.  Having entered into the 2004 SNP leadership battle, Salmond emerged victorious with a majority of around 75%.  Since then, he has overseen the continued electoral success of the SNP with these successes culminating in the 2010 general election in which the SNP emerged victorious within the Scottish Parliament.  Armed with a sizeable majority, the SNP have promised to hold a referendum on Scottish independence; the desired ‘yes’ vote being their final hurdle in a bid to become independent of the United Kingdom.  Arguably, this video explains the issue most succinctly.

Currently, the main three political parties of Westminster are opposed to Scottish independence.  In a rare display of unity, both David Cameron and Ed Milliband have spoken out against Alex Salmond, claiming that Scottish independence would profoundly affect the British Isles and considerably weaken the political union.  Both political leaders have also stated that independence would be ‘bad’ for the UK economy, especially if Scotland were to abandon Sterling and adopt the Euro.

How the independence referendum will play out is unknown.  All current indicators appear to support the conclusion that if a referendum were to be taken today the idea of an independent Scotland would be rejected by the population; Westminster arguably pushing an early referendum for this precise reason.  There is no doubt that Britain would be weaker should the union be broken.  Not only would the breakaway of Scotland throw the future of the remaining Union into doubt, but additionally there would be significant headaches for politicians involved in discussion over the military, economic policies and border controls.

It is also highly likely that whatever the result it will destroy the losing political party.  For the ruling Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition a defeat would likely be the final nail in a coffin for a political relationship that has already suffered heavily from the continuing slew of poor economic data, high unemployment and widespread public discontent with severe budget cuts.  On the other hand, for the SNP a defeat would signal the end of a party which does not appear to have much policy and substance past opposition to Westminster, support for independence and bribery of the population via free prescriptions and non-existent university fees.

And despite these problems, should Scotland become independent it must be remembered that the politicians will have a responsibility for at least a small portion of the often talked about and over-hyped national debt – all £1 trillion of it.  For a country with an economy only totalling £140bn this would be a substantial burden.  After independence the SNP would no doubt soon realise that money is no longer channelled from the wealthy South East of England towards a deprived and desolate Glasgow City.  The English taxpayer would no longer be responsible for funding expensive Scottish nationalism and Scotland would no longer have the benefit of a highly-trained and professional army, paid for and maintained by Westminster.

How sustainable are those free prescriptions and subsidised university fees now?