Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Intensive care: the right place for the euro, not the UK

There comes a point for many of us when life seems to consist of a series of hospital admissions: each leaving the patient looking and feeling weaker than the last, and sadly allowing little doubt about the final outcome.

That is very much the condition of the euro today. We may, if we wish, utter a sigh of relief at markets’ positive reaction to the Spanish bailout, but should be under no illusion that it constitutes any sort of cure.

In Germany, Frau Merkel keeps warning darkly that the survival of the single currency is “an issue of war or peace”, which should worry all of us who remember some basic history. She may well be right.

The conundrum is that eminent specialists take diametrically opposed views on whether drastic action to try and save the euro will make war less or more likely. Kill or cure? It’s not an issue one wants to settle with the toss of a coin, whether that be a euro or a pound.

I personally find it hard to fathom why our supposedly Eurosceptic Government is urging members of the Eurozone to forge ahead with creating a single state to save their currency, regardless of the wishes of their electorates, while at the same time contending that Britain will have nothing to do with any of it.

Apparently this went much better than the follow-up: "Look, Angela, it's an elephant!"

Particularly when, at the same time as encouraging the Continent to unite (probably against us, on all past form), it seems to be doing precious little to prevent Britain itself from breaking up.

Doomsters gleefully predict that the United Kingdom is another terminal case, and that the fine displays of Union flags turned out for the Queen’s Jubilee will never be seen again. Not because they are about to be replaced with the EU stars, but because the blue and white Scottish component will have to be removed following Mr Salmond’s independence referendum.

Given that the flag was created to symbolise the union of the Scottish and English crowns in 1603, rather than the union of governments in 1707, it is not immediately obvious why it should be doomed by a reversal of the latter, given that the SNP seems to have abandoned its plan to make Scotland a republic.

Along with its plans to join the euro and make Scotland part of that great “arc of prosperity” embracing Ireland and Iceland. Remember that?

Let us pause to reflect on exactly how much of its hard-won independence Ireland enjoys today. It simply has its austerity medicine prescribed by Berlin rather than London.

The other fatal flaw in what is left of Mr Salmond’s great scheme is that he now proposes to retain the British (or English) pound as his currency. Just as, thanks to the brilliant demonstration provided by the euro, it is generally agreed that having a single currency without a single government is a non-starter. 

Why are we entertaining the prospect of this nonsense running on until the 700th anniversary of Bannockburn in 2014, when there are so many bigger issues in the wider world to worry about?

The Jubilee surely gave a welcome boost to British identity and, if we can avert our eyes from no doubt embarrassing events in Poland and Ukraine over the next three weeks, this should be back on course as the country rallies behind Team GB at the Olympics.

What sort of showing would an independent Team Scotland make there, in the absence of recognition for caber-tossing and bridie-eating as Olympic sports?

With the world around us getting more dangerous by the day, it is surely high time that our friends across the border recognised how well off they are under our current constitutional and financial arrangements, and abandoned their sentimental longing for something better.

We may not be able to stop the European dream expiring, but at least moving the United Kingdom out of the bed next to the door would be a brave-hearted step in the right direction.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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