Monday, 5 December 2011

When a pound simply isn’t anymore.

A pound hasn’t been a pound for almost 80 years. It provides another reason we need a referendum, a YES vote, then a decision on our future currency. We live in a time of “Austerity”, the present pound in our pocket devalues daily, real wages are falling and society’s living standards appear ready to drop off a cliff.

It’s against this background that we have the likes of Mark Tenant of Scottish Financial Enterprise [SFE] adding his voice to the Unionist backed clamour that “uncertainties” over the future currency and constitution of Scotland are inhibiting investment, specifically that it might be bad for his sector at least.

His was simply the latest voice added to the already discredited Atherton of Citibank and others. Mr. Tenant does however appear correct that the uncertainties may be bad for his sector. However, that doesn’t mean it isn’t good for the rest of us.

With the devastation financial services have wrought, that industry’s proponents would do well to remember an old adage: “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt,” or indeed invite analysis of your sectors achievements.

The reality of our current situation is that Scotland would require a cataclysm of near biblical proportions in order to achieve the same dysfunctional levels Westminster and the financial industry have engineered.

The Union and its fiscal bedfellows have failed so disastrously, it’s easily arguable they have effectively devalued the pound in our pockets by a factor of 252 since the 1930’s. Not 252%, but to 1/252nd. The facts speak clearly.

When the 1930’s began one UK pound was tied to the purchasing power of 12 troy ounces of silver, almost a pound of silver. Effectively a pound was a pound of “sterling” silver, hence the name. It was an ancient bond.

The pound was no empty promise, but a tangible thing and in theory any individual or market body could exchange paper pounds for a like weight of silver. With today’s price of silver hovering around £21 per troy ounce that makes 12 ounces of silver worth around £252, not £1. The value of the pound would have tracked the value of silver.

Less than eighty years ago decoupling and devaluation of the pound in our pockets by Westminster was required to make up for the Union parliament’s mismanagement of our money.

House prices are a relevant area to demonstrate Westminster’s fiscal ineptitude. An average house cost about £600 in 1930, when paper cash was tied to silver bullion. If a Scot had invested that £600 in Bank of England notes and stuck it under the mattress it would hardly buy the mattress today. If they had swapped it for silver and put that under the mattress it would be worth £150,000 – one could still purchase a house.

The inflation adjusted price of silver has been reasonably stable. 12 troy ounces of silver today buys largely what 12 troy ounces of silver did in 1930. What a pound of silver can be exchanged for hasn’t altered much in 80 years; the same cannot be said for the Bank of England’s notes. Examining relative worth, the contrasts are damning.

The Unionists of our society are arguing that we continue with this failed model. They argue that we put our faith in Westminster which has devalued our currency, since decoupling, to such an extent that it is almost without any comparative worth. They fundamentally argue that although we now have a world where the richest 225 individuals on our planet have a wealth equal to the poorest 4 billion, we should perpetuate it.

The other £149,000 plus pounds of value or worth also went somewhere; an official accounting would be appreciated.

London couldn’t easily manipulate the value of the currency if it was tied to bullion. Currency manipulation principally benefits two entities. It benefits bankers or traders and it benefits incompetent governments. It can make big Capitol wealthier with additional room for market fluctuations and speculation and mask the catastrophe’s of poor government policy.

This simplified perspective of London’s policies clarifies the reason for these nonsensical statements by financiers and those Unionists with vested interest in the status quo. That otherwise stable wealth didn’t go away, it became severely concentrated in a system these individuals and organizations benefit from perpetuating.

With currency tied to commodity it’s difficult to create massive value swings. Severe instability is harder to engineer; and instability is where profit, or masking it, is to be had. It is difficult to gamble and win big when the odds on offer are moderate.

With promissory notes gambling is much simpler, especially when the gambler can significantly influence the real value of that note.

This same system has the Euro teetering in a crisis of liquidity, if the Euro was tied to a commodity there would be little issue as each nation would have been required to maintain its own reserves. This same system now has Greeks seeing their property taxes soar and their tax bills being legally coupled to their electricity supply.

Greeks are not only disenfranchised, they are being removed from the electricity grid in their scores of thousands to pay for the mismanagement and excesses of the government and banks. Greeks must now pay their electricity and their increased taxes on the same utility bill. Greeks are close to complete civil unrest.

The Italians have also just been informed general taxes are to increase; it will be interesting to watch the collection method unfold as we ponder the next nation to fall to the technocrats.

The Scot’s – English situation with a common currency is similar to, but not quite as pronounced as that of Germany and Greece within the Euro. Unless we decouple from Bank of England issue we will exchange our bright future for a blighted one, because we are tied to another Greece.

The reality is that a Scots currency would, by Westminster’s own commissioned reports, be amongst the hardest in the world, one of the least volatile, one of the safest.

A hard currency, unlike the Bank of England’s increasingly worthless paper, is not open to much speculation. It is therefore arguably less valuable to “financial services”. A hard currency is most often linked to economic stability, to prosperity, to stable and consistent wealth generation.

Scotland already has its own currency, the pound, linked to Bank of England issue. Our fiscal coupling took place in 1707 as part of the Union Treaty. All Scotland requires is to simply de-couple her currency from the Bank of England and tie it to Scotland, a natural process with treaty termination. No different to any Euro-zone nation walking away from the Euro, a concept few seem to be having difficulty envisaging - until it applies to Scots.

There’s an issue with de-coupling which Westminster is keen to hide. The Scots pound is likely to rise in value even more quickly than the English pound will fall; and the English pound will fall.

De-coupling Scotland’s currency and net worth is to be fought at all costs by Westminster because that sudden loss of value in Bank of England issue can lead to a situation where governments topple and markets crash. Money is the fundamental cause of the Westminster fight against Scotland having her own voice.

“The City” and Westminster fear Scotland’s currency will be welcomed in the larger world. They know it will be stronger, McCrone told them so over thirty years ago, and the balance since has only improved in Scotland’s favour. Having to buy one pound Scots with two pounds English is unthinkable to London, it must be avoided.

By their actions it is the self evident opinion of the financial services industry and many within Westminster that the prosperity of countless future generations of both nations must therefore be set aside when weighed against the vested interest of today’s political and fiscal power brokers.

This is why Holyrood would have Scotland’s currency tied to Sterling for a little while after the referendum, just long enough to permit a measured adjustment rather than severe upheaval. It is a good approach. It is an olive branch for our neighbour, a perhaps undeserved demonstration of intergovernmental friendship, not hardship.

Another fear of individuals like Misters Tenant or Atherton, both in financial services, is that this new Central Reserve of Scotland will not be on any stock market, that it will be the property of the realm.

The unvoiced fear in the financial services world is that with a competent new Scots government operating in the black there is a strong possibility that Holyrood will pass a bill enacting this Scots Reserve. We might even pass balanced budget amendments and, lord forbid, permit financial institutions to fail. The “sovereign fund” proposal is a potential precursor to such a move.

The days of public underwriting of private gambling in Scotland would come to an end, a perceived “right” of the financial services industry that took many long years, substantial cash and significant lobbying to win, will be gone overnight.

For financial services, a Central Reserve of Scotland operated for and on behalf of the people of Scotland whose revenues and profits directly benefit the people of Scotland is not to be contemplated. It would set a precedent that other nations might follow.

The news of recovery in Iceland after debunking the bankers has been effectively muffled, the resurgence in Scotland will not be so easily quelled and the ripples would be much harder to contain.

Ultimately the Euro and the Pound Sterling are both examples of the same failed model; the Pound Scots once decoupled can herald a new template for national finances.

Only a YES vote in the upcoming poll gives Scots an opportunity to stop the perpetuation of a failed financial model, YES is opportunity to change an otherwise bleak financial future.

We are almost unique among nations in our ability to achieve this because we already operate at a national surplus, and the energy boom underwriting it might change, but its potential isn’t going away.

It’s our choice, it’s our future, and it’s our potential. We can make it a bright one.


  1. Well argued Hazel. Such a future is within reach now - something I never thought I'd see.

  2. I really fancy the idea of bringing back the Merk! A nice, uniquely Scottish denomination.

  3. @McGonagall: Thank you very much for the encouragement!

    @Bobelix: Don't suppose I care what we call it, as long as we call it the "Scottish (enter coinage title here)"!

    Thanks for taking the time to read. I'd be very grateful if you passed it along.

  4. I like the sentiments hazel, and I believe that independence and a separate currency would (in the long run) benefit Scotland, its economy and its people. A separate currency would have saved us from the worst effects the inflationary effect of London and the South East and the deflationary policies of the UK Government which so badly affected the rest of the country. The report (classified by the government of Margaret Thatcher) which concluded that a separate Scots currency would be one of the worlds strongest was the 1974 McCrone report( . Its conclusions are not as true today as they were then yet we still have the potential to develop our natural resources of wind and wave for energy and to use the skills that we develop to create a world market which will benefit Scotland. A currency fixed to a base metal will not benefit us however due to the demand for our currency from countries wishing to purchase goods and services from us. (this is a technical argument which I wont pursue here but for a better understanding of the issues you might want to read this -

  5. It would be difficult to have a bullion backed currency initiated in this day and age, however the base premiss of the Crone Report still holds true, if not more so today.
    Yes, oil will eventually run out. Wind, wave and tidal power will not. Neither will the innovation of Scots. For a time we can utelise all three; Carbon energy resources, Green energy resources and Innovation.
    Scotland has much potential; whether we allow this to be stifled by our neighbour's parliament is a choice we have to make.