Tuesday, 14 March 2017

The Personal is Political

I had a really troubled sleep last night.

Months ago I reached agreement in principle on a major new business venture of my own. More of that when it happens.

But, as with all such business ventures, it was conditional on funding and the bank, although long since also committed in principle, have taken forever to draw up the actual paperwork.

Entirely by coincidence we, my intended new partners and I, are due to sign off on the bank paperwork this Wednesday and the deal itself this Thursday.

But the deal involves borrowing a substantial amount, in Sterling, repayable over ten years.

And then we had yesterday's announcement.

And that's what kept me awake last night.

Because I was wondering if I should go through with the deal.

And that's for two, very related, reasons.

The 2014 Referendum had no real impact on economic activity in Scotland chiefly because until a very brief period at the end nobody seriously thought the Nats had any real chance of victory. But this time it will be different.

And last time there was no suggestion (I would argue unrealistically) that Scotland's currency would not continue to be Sterling. But this time that will be different as well.

And that will have consequences. There is no sentiment in Business. If I am lending money I factor in the possibility of not getting it back. ,At least in the rate of interest that I charge but ultimately in my decision as to whether to lend at all.

Although I personally am a court lawyer, my business derives a very substantial part of its income from property work.

I recall, far from happily, 2008 and the years that followed when the property market ground to a halt because mortgage funding became so hard to obtain. My own firm only escaped redundancies through the good fortune of staff leaving for unrelated reasons. Many law firms were not so lucky. More than a few collapsed altogether.

I don't want to go through that again but I fear we now will. If the Pound Sterling is abandoned in favour of a new currency (the only realistic option) nobody will know what that new currency is to be worth. The Nats might claim it was worth the same as Sterling but that's not their decision but a matter for the markets. The idea of a peg is risible. Don't ask me, read the White Paper. I would suggest a Pound Scots would logically be worth less than the Pound Sterling but that's not the point. The point is that nobody will know. So who is going to provide Sterling borrowing when within three or four years they won't know the Sterling value of the assets borrowed against or the ability of any Scottish based business or individual to repay?

And that's very bad news indeed if you're in my line of business.

And then there's that personal borrowing. If Scotland becomes independent, we might just be able to increase our private fees to compensate for the devaluation of the currency in which they are paid. People will always need lawyers. But another big bit of our turnover comes from Legal Aid. Setting aside for the moment whether a £15 Billion deficit might make any Legal Aid scheme unaffordable altogether, on any view, it being Government money, it will be paid out in any new currency. And that's a big issue. For my borrowing is still going to be repayable in Sterling.

Now, in the end, I decided to go ahead. Partly that's because I feel morally obliged to do so but also partly because I have substantial Sterling assets held outwith Scotland and currently earmarked for my retirement which I could, in an emergency, draw down to repay the borrowing.

But I'm lucky. Could I advise anyone without that insurance to embark on a business venture involving long or medium term borrowing in Scotland today?  I very much doubt it. That's not because I think we'll lose although I acknowledge that possibility. As I say above, there can be no sentiment in business. But even if we win, so long as there remains uncertainty, much of the damage I first outline above will still have occurred.

And believe me, this, if it is not stopped, is going to impact, soon, on real life. As any vote approaches, Scottish residents will struggle to get not just mortgages but car leases and credit cards. Because lenders will not know if they will be able to repay them.

So I have concluded not just in my own personal interest but in the interest of Scotland that Mrs May should stop it. Not forever, because if people are clear enough and mad enough then that's democracy. But that the requirement should be a clear and unambiguous manifesto commitment and a Holyrood election won on that basis. Neither of which the SNP currently has.

What would the Nats do? They'd moan of course (nothing new there) but where would they go with their moaning?  Nobody outwith Scotland would give a toss. And inside Scotland? There is no way a legal referendum can be held without a Section 30. So the Scottish Parliament, if it tried, would pretty soon be stopped in its tracks (by the lawyers, hurrah!). The Yessers might try and organise some sort of unofficial referendum outwith the purview of Holyrood but the rest of us would just leave them to get on with. So what is left?  What is left seems to be a ridiculous idea about of the voter whose mindset, if there is an eventual vote, will be "I would have voted against but now I will vote for because I was earlier denied an opportunity to vote against." That is the sum total of the basis of the various "threats" and "warnings" issued since lunchtime Yesterday.

I know I initially thought and wrote that Mrs May should play a bit of a game; ask for detailed proposals; set conditions unlikely to be acceptable; as John Rentoul of the Independent put it, "Not say yes but not say no, which is really saying no." But, as I say, damage to business confidence is already being done.

So, to borrow the Scottish colloquial, the PM should tell the FM where to go. For she has nowhere to go.


2 comments:

  1. I am increasingly of the opinion that the Tories, in the sure knowledge that a strong SNP means a weak Labour Party, are willing to play a game with Scotland's well-being. They are happy to keep the SNP whine and grievance machine invigorated to this end.
    With this in mind, a hypocrisy of Ruth the Truth Davidson arises - that a Tory vote is opposition to the SNP when it's no such thing and she knows it.
    This almost matches the SNP claim that a vote for SNP takes Scotland forwards, when it also does no such thing.
    Identity Politics. No good can come of it.

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  2. I work for a large business in southern England that has already decided to stop investing in its Scottish subsidiary and is pulling back from any but short term business there. The CEO has made it clear that it is safer to look to Ireland for future business investment, despite the issues with the Euro exchange rate. I suspect that other companies will do the same, to Scotland's detriment.

    Moreover, when the Nats lose the second referendum in 2021 or whenever (I can't see it before 2020) are we then faced with a demand for another referendum circa 2025? A constitutional change will be needed to make clear that this next referendum settles matters once and for all. Otherwise, significant business activity will just cease in Scotland.

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