Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Arvo Part - any good?

In the 1980s when I was having lessons with John Tavener, he played me part of a piece by Arvo Part. "People say he's like me.  Or the other way round", the sage of Wembley Park said in his scratchy patrician voice, "I don't hear it myself though". I remember some chugging strings, fairly static; then an abrupt gear change. Then John turned the music off and we went on to other things.

A year or so later Part's Second Symphony appeared on the Proms programme. I went along. It sounded to me like an Estonian Vaughan Williams. I was somewhat against Vaughan Williams at the time and thought the piece dull; duller anyway than the brief snatch Tavener had played me.

While I was still at College I went to the British premiere of Part's St John Passion, sung by the Hilliard Ensemble. As I remember this piece meandered on for an hour or so in A minor, ending rather strikingly in a blaze of A major.  I wasn't totally sure it was worth the wait.

Then that was that for a while. I remember people talking highly of a piece Part had written as a memorial to Britten, but heard nothing more of his music until the chance discovery of the cello version of Fratres, a slow meditative piece which the composer has arranged for many instrumental combinations. This I really liked - simple, but with a masterly grip of musical architecture.

So last Sunday's all-Part Manchester Camerata concert was the immersive experience for part-timers like me. What was it like?

Interesting and enjoyable. We got Fratres again, this time in a string orchestra version; I prefer the one for cellos, because the thumb-stopped harmonics at the start of the piece have a special unearthly quality that high violins can't match, but it's still very striking. There was a nice little unaccompanied choral piece sung by Vox Clamantis. Then the choir and the Camerata did the Stabat Mater, a longer and more substantial work, harmonically static, perhaps G minor this time, but often richly decorated. After the interval we had Da Pacem Domine, a minature version perhaps of the same idea, and then a much bigger orchestra arrived - triple woodwind no less - for Como cierva Sedienta, a solo motet for high soprano.

Como cierva Sedienta was perhaps the least successful performance, sometimes overscored and with the soprano inaudible in the lower register. I thought there was too much instrumental colour, like a pastiche of Richard Strauss with all the gorgeousness removed. Moreover the musical language seemed to reach back to the duller more romantic idiom of the Second Symphony. Music essentially lives and dies by the quality of its invention, and there was nothing in it I found memorable or interesting.

In the other more obviously liturgical pieces, scored for strings only, Part's ideas seemed to be better served by a narrower and more focused range of sounds. Their language suited his particular version of minimalism better too. You might describe it as Neo-Baroque if that didn't call to mind Stravinsky's hyperactive take on that idea nearly a hundred years earlier. It's less reliant on melodic ideas than Como cierva Sedienta, much more on Part's ability to spin extended musical paragraphs which sit there looking at the view.

Is Part a minimalist? Kind of. You could certainly walk in and out of the longer pieces without missing much. Perhaps that's the intention. My wife didn't think it was static music, but harmonically most of it is, very much so. Fratres was much the most inventive harmonically of the strings only pieces, but rests on a grounding open fifth in the basses; its tonality is never in doubt. The liturgical pieces had surface movement, but rested for very long periods in the same key. I was interested to find Part paying attention to the little orchestral details which composers use to help maintain the audience's interest. There were pizzicato punctuations in the Stabat Mater placed structurally in exactly the same way Elgar uses them in Nimrod. This was not ruthless minimalism of the Philip Glass variety, but minimalism in which the composer is doing his best to make sure the audience doesn't nod off.

But Part, like so many post-war composers, is either not very good at writing fast music or not very interested in it. I find a lot of Tavener's music too rooted in contemplation to make a whole evening's worth, and when Part did get busy in a couple of places in the Stabat Mater it was in brief flurries of elaboration rather than because the fundamental pace of events had quickened.

When conductor Gabor Takacs-Nagy, doing a fine job as usual, gestured towards the audience at the end, it took a moment for me to grasp that Part was actually there in the hall. I had no idea he was still alive, let alone in Manchester. To see this elderly chap, frail but still sprightly, make his way onto the stage was particularly moving. For one thing it was there that I last saw Tavener, only a few months before his death. But Part has made a great contribution to European music, and it was fantastic to see the hall - packed for contemporary music people like (as opposed to all the other stuff they don't but which gets foisted on them anyway) - rise as one in acknowledgment of his achievement.

Part, like all elderly composers, bore the marks of his struggle to produce great art, but also looked totally chuffed to receive the cheers of his admirers. As well he might.

Greece, Simon Schama and putting the cool people in charge

In November 2011 I wrote on this blog, "I can't see any way in which Greece will still be in the Euro by the end of 2012".

So that prediction went well.

What I had not then realised is that those who get to the top in the Game of Euros are by definition committed to the Project.  They'll do pretty much anything to keep the show on the road. So the bail-outs, the interminable conferences, the late night agreements, the postponement of appointments with reality, the can-kicking forever and ever.

But in the last four years I have become wiser and thus am not terribly surprised this morning, 14th July 2015, to find that Greece is still in the Euro, 48 hours after its premier Mr Tsipras finally caved in to the Eurogroup's demands and agreed to take them back to Athens for ratification by the Greek parliament.

At the heart of this shambles is a problem of democracy. The Greeks desperately want to be in Europe - Tsipras said he had a mandate for rejecting European demands but not for leaving the single currency. The German government on the other hand answers to an electorate which is fed up of paying for Greek failure.

The electorates of both countries are deluded. The Greek people don't seem to have noticed that it's being in the Euro which is one of the prime causes of their troubles, or that you don't have to be in the Euro to be part of Europe (look at Britain). The German electorate on the other hand doesn't seem to have realised that not every country can be like theirs - not every country can have a strong economy whose exports have benefited enormously from having a currency lowered by its association with weaker economies like Greece - and that for every creditor nation there must by definition be a debtor nation.

Both Mrs Merkel and successive Greek leaders have lacked the guts to tell their electorates the truth.

And the consequence of all this? Greece has had it. It has apparently signed up for outside supervision and interference in the running of its economy. It must run a surplus.  If it doesn't run a surplus it must cut spending further, thus guaranteeing its economic nosedive will steepen. It must find 50 bn Euros of state assets to sell, and put the money into a fund beyond Greek control to pay off its debts. And if it jumps through all these successive hoops then there might in future be a discussion of debt relief, at least in the form of extended maturities.

There seems absolutely no prospect of this plan working. Greece owes too much money. Some of it needs writing off. And while we wait for conclusive proof that the plan isn't working Greeks face a future of bleakness unimaginable to Britons.

What does this tell us about Europe? Firstly, that Germany is boss. Even though France apparently wanted kinder terms, their ridiculous bespectacled penguin of a leader was unable to face the Germans down. It tells us that all the talk about the club of nations, about solidarity, about co-operation is just so much flannel. It tells us that Euro area is not a currency union at all, but merely a hard currency peg from which smaller nations slip at their peril. The ECB, remember, pulled the plug on funding Greek banks a couple of weeks ago in what may well be a breach of its duty to ensure financial stability. That was a political act as much as an economic one.

None of the European leaders come out of this well. Mr Tsipras overplayed his hand. He gambled the Germans would give ground. They didn't. He made no preparations for a return to the drachma and when the banks had to close he had nowhere left to go. He ended up with a deal significantly worse than he and Varoufakis could have got five months ago, and significantly worse than the one his countrymen roundly rejected in a referendum.

That's what happens when you put the cool people in charge.

On a superficial analysis Mrs Merkel got what she wanted. But the plan she wanted won't work and we'll be back here again, perhaps within months. And that's even if the Greek parliament ratifies the deal. Moreover the watching world has learned things about the dynamics of Europe and the Eurozone which are exceptionally unpalatable. Essentially its partners were willing to let Greece go to the wall rather than face down their own electorates.

After so many earlier failures I am wary of making predictions. Better leave it to others. And here's a stonking great hostage to fortune. Two days ago Simon Schama wrote on Twitter, "If Tsipras was wearing the crown of King Pyrrhus this time last week, Merkel is wearing it now. Her ultimatum beginning of end of EU".

That's a big claim.


Friday, 12 June 2015

Chris Addison, George Osborne and how the lofty are undone

A few years ago I wrote a post about the Guardian journalist Aditya Chakrabortty.  Entitled - imaginatively - Valuing Aditya Chakrabortty, it explained how the paper's chief economics leader writer had misunderstood the nature of value in the context of the Government's sale of its stake in Northern Rock, the failed building society.

For people like me there is not much hope that the powerful will read what we write, but a couple of weeks later Chakrabortty did return to the subject with a snarky reference to nitpickers, so I like to think that at the very least he does Google his own name from time to time.

Now this may seem like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut, but it's worth repeating these arguments every now and again, and this time the culprit is the bouffant Left wing comedian Chris Addison.

Actually comedian may not be the right word for Addison, because I don't know if he is actually funny in person. He appears on game shows I don't watch and I know who he is only because of his acting role as a hapless special adviser in The Thick of It, a programme which is funny but rests on the premise that all politicians are venal and stupid, the implied subtext being that if its Left wing actors and writers went into politics they'd be much cleverer and more sensible.

If they could be bothered.

So what has Addison done to get my goat? He has repeated what I like to call the Chakrabortty Fallacy. You may have noticed that the Government is proposing to sell off part of its stake in Royal Bank of Scotland, the bank that had to be rescued in 2008 by a £37 billion injection of UK taxpayers money. At the time the shares were trading at about £5 each. They're now trading at £3.50.

Enter Chris Addison. Yesterday he Tweeted "If George has a share worth £5 and George sells that share for £3.50, explain why George is Chancellor of The Exchequer. Show working".

I'm sure you get the picture. Why is stupid George Osborne proposing to sell some of Britain's RBS shares for less than they're worth, losing the taxpayers billions in the process?

But Addison, like Chakrabortty, doesn't understand what value is. Something is worth what someone else is prepared to pay for it in an open market. But firstly Addison is failing to look at the upstream end of the equation. Yes, RBS shares were trading at about £5 in 2008. But the bank was essentially bust, and if the then Labour government had waited for this to make itself manifest in the hope of paying less, RBS might have crashed, with knock on effects in the British and global banking systems which don't bear thinking about. At the time RBS was one of the biggest banks in the world.

The figure of £5 per share didn't represent an ordinary open market price then. If the markets had known RBS's true situation the shares would have been worth much less. In fact in the following January the shares were trading at 10p each, a fall of some 97%. And that was after HMG had bailed it out.

So the Government paid a price which didn't represent ordinary open market value - it paid a price which represented, as with Northern Rock, the cost of preventing the British banking system from collapse, and the buyer was no ordinary one but perhaps the only party with both the means and the urgent will to stop that happening.

Moreover George Osborne does not, contra Addison, own shares "worth £5". He never has. As I've explained, the shares weren't even worth £5 then, at least not to the ordinary buyer. So in what way are they worth £5 now?

Actually Addison is too stupid to realise he has answered his own question. We know what the shares are worth. They're worth £3.50 because that's what people are willing to pay for them in an open market today. A journey, incidentally, upwards from 10p that looks nothing short of a minor miracle.

If Addison weren't so set on joining the general Leftist condemnation of George Osborne (who continues, annoyingly, to be a capable and cunning Chancellor), he might have put a more thoughtful and pertinent question.

"If HMG bought a share for £5, why is it now selling it for £3.50?".

This is the kind of question which every unsuccessful stock market punter has had to face from time to time. The best answer I can give is that the money has already gone, and the only way of getting it back is to gamble that the share price will recover in time and we will end up making some money. But this would be a gamble because we don't know how RBS will do in the years to come. No-one does.

And in the meantime the UK is borrowing nearly £2 billion every week just to stay afloat, and is paying billions in interest on its borrowing every year. In that context cashing in some assets to lower the deficit is a perfectly defensible strategy. It may turn out to be wrong in the long term, but no-one knows that, least of all Chris Addison.  Making these sorts of decisions is precisely the kind of thing we elect politicians to do. Does anyone really think Osborne would have ordered the sales now in order to make less money than he could later?

What depths of plonkerdom has Chris Addison plumbed. His Tweet invites followers to share his disdain for the Chancellor and laugh at Mr Osborne's stupidity. To date about 5,000 people have favourited or R/Td it. Oh how they must have laughed! And yet it turns out that, despite his lofty tittering, it's actually Addison, failing to understand one of the most basic priniciples of economics, who's made an idiot of himself.


Thursday, 14 May 2015

Mark Carney, Robert Peston and Jonathan Portes: immigration and inequality

So now we know. The Governor of the Bank of England thinks that immigration is helping to keep wages down.

Mark Carney said yesterday, "In recent years labour supply has expanded significantly owing to higher participation rates among older workers, a greater willingness to work longer hours and strong population growth, partly driven by higher net migration. . . These positive labour supply shocks have contained wage growth in the face of robust employment growth. Wages have grown by around 2 per cent in the past year - less than half the average rate before the global financial crisis - and a key risk is that these subdued growth rates continue."

This should come as no surprise to anyone who has ever thought for more than a couple of minutes about the effect of migration. If you provide more of something, the price tends to go down. Specifically, if foreign workers are arriving in the UK at a rate of about 250,000 per year (for this is the current rate of increase), employers are less likely to have to compete for staff by raising wages.

And to be clear, the general point that an influx of workers from abroad represents a weight on the pay of the indigenous population is a statement of the overwhelmingly obvious: it is simply a version of the law of supply and demand that the price of anything falls when supply rises relative to demand.

I should confess that I lifted that last paragraph from Robert Peston's piece today on the BBC website.

Anyone in any doubt about this merely needs to ask themselves why it is the Confederation of British Industry is so keen on immigration.

For me the truly perplexing thing is why so many on the Left are still so keen on open borders. As the pay of people at the bottom end languishes, so the gap between high and low pay widens. It's called inequality. But the Left is against this too, and for them the two realities grate against one another with a kind of political dissonance which induces denial, anger and - all too readily - name calling of people who point it out.

If you really want to make yourself unpopular, draw attention to the fact that British people trapped in low wages tend to have brown skins.  They're the children and grandchildren of former generations of immigrants. Because naturally no bien pensant likes to think anyone on the Centre Right might actually be occupying the moral high ground on the subject of race.

To be fair, it's not all bad news. European immigrants are often better educated, better motivated and more skilled than the UK residents against whom they're competing for jobs. Unlike immigrants from the Asian subcontinent they're more likely to buy into Britain's basic post-Christian ethos. By keeping wages down, they also help to keep inflation down and interest rates down, making British goods more competitive and keeping the economy ticking over.

One of the most persistent and articulate of the pro-Immigration Left wingers is a man called Jonathan Portes, head of the NIESR. Portes used to be an economic adviser to Tony Blair, which is instructive. He is bullishly in favour of immigration, having no truck with the argument that immigrants take jobs from British workers (many of them black). Portes' case is that immigration helps the economy grow, which is undoubtedly true. The question is how much it helps, and whether the upside outweighs the down.

I had a Twitter spat with Portes recently, in which I tried to get him to confirm that he believed 100 migrants begat 100 jobs, so there was no net loss. Portes refused to answer this question and I suspect has now blocked or muted me. The difficulty for all participants in this argument is that it's impossible to do a control test. We all fall back on theory because practical tests aren't possible.

Incidentally Jonathan Portes' response to Peston was to Tweet - "I'm afraid first few paras are wrong, both theoretically and empirically".  Who'd have thought it.

Since it's most unlikely that 100 extra workers create exactly 100 extra jobs, the likelihood is that every 100 extra either takes jobs from British people or creates some extra. The first problem for Portes is that not every migrant gets work. Different communities have different profiles, but whilst most Europeans find jobs, that isn't true of other migrants; the worst-performing are Bangladeshis at only 35%; the rest are presumably on benefits.

Moreover if Portes is right, and 100 migrants create 125 jobs, for example, the number of job opportunities would be rising faster than the numbers of workers, in which case you would expect wage inflation to be much higher than the current estimate of 2%. In fact for much of the last twenty years wage growth has been sluggish or negative.

Home Office research from 2012 suggests in fact that in times of recession there's a net job loss, and that every 100 immigrants probably create only 77 jobs, meaning 23 are taken from British people. Although to some extent they support my case, I think these figures are speculative and dubious and I prefer to rely on the fall in real-terms wages, which is suggestive of an excess of supply over demand for staff.

Incidentally, you have to wonder why Portes isn't arguing for migrants to be paid to come here.  After all, if migrants create more jobs than they take, it would surely be cheaper to pay for more to come and push unemployed Britons into work.

According to more reliable figures from the Bank of England, in the last eighteen years the number of European workers has quadrupled to two million, accelerating in the mid 2000s as Labour opened the door to the populations of poor East European countries. If Jonathan Portes is right, this two million strong influx has created more than two million extra jobs.  Yet unemployment remains stubbornly at - as it happens - just under two million. And in real terms wages are stagnant, particularly at the bottom end.

No wonder we have a housing crisis. No wonder the health service and schools are struggling to meet extra demand. No wonder Britain is such a crowded country. We have accommodated an extra one and a half million people from Europe alone in the last eighteen years.

How did the BBC report this story? Like this. "Carney: UK productivity not harmed by foreign workers".  Not sure what Robert Peston thought of that, but Mr Portes will have been pleased.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Why did Labour lose and what should they do now?

As previously suggested, no-one knows why Labour lost the election. But here's a guess.

Political times change. I remember the 1970s, when one industry or another seemed to be perpetually on strike. I remember the three day week, the oil crisis and eating dinner by candlelight. There were strikes by miners, dockers, bin men, British Leyland, Uncle Tom Cobley and all. Union leaders, men with severe glasses and raincoats which barely covered their bellies, appeared on TV news going in and out of Downing Street. From smoke-filled rooms people were sent out for beer and sandwiches.

My Dad's response to this was characteristically pithy. He said, "They're pricing themselves out of jobs".

Globalisation has put a stop to most of this nonsense. Many years ago a majority of the British public realised that they were competing against people in the Far East who were willing to work in a factory for a dollar a day. They realised that if they were going to keep their jobs they had to remain competitive. Productivity was part of this, and so was wage restraint. Economic reality killed union militancy just as surely as Mrs Thatcher's reforms. No one in Britain can imagine now a return to the bad old days of disruption.

But if this is partly because of an irreversible shift in British attitudes, what if another shift is slowly taking place, making another hole in Labour's intellectual and moral armour?

I think you can divide Britain into two groups. The first believes that in the long run you can have what you can afford to pay for. The second believes that you can have what you deserve, and that if you tax rich people a bit more the numbers will work out for themselves. Most of this first group votes Tory. Most of the second votes Labour.

The nightmare for Labour might just possibly be that the first group is growing and that the second finds itself shrinking and isolated. Certainly the response to defeat last week sounded like a howl of cognitive dissonance, as the liberal commentariat struggled to come to terms with the inconvenient verdict of the electorate.

Some Conservative pundits have criticised this response on the basis that it amounted to "Why are voters so greedy / stupid / ill-informed / selfish?"  Personally I don't mind abusing the electorate. An awful lot of voters are staggeringly ignorant, and that includes many who voted Tory. But at a gut level I think that people are reasonably savvy. More of them understand what the deficit is now than was the case in 2010. That's bad for Labour, which thrives on the plausibility of its spending promises. It's just possible that the more we understand the economic realities, the harder it will be for them to get back into office.

It has taken a long time for signs of understanding to creep into Labour discourse. In the 2010 campaign Gordon Brown told the electorate there was a choice between "Labour investment and Tory cuts". After Brown lost, Ed Miliband told us austerity was unnecessary and that there would never be any growth under George Osborne. Then when it turned out the economy was growing and there never had been a double-dip recession (let alone a triple dip), Ed Balls said it was the wrong type of growth. Finally there was an admission that bringing the defecit down was necessary after all, and that we should vote Labour because it would mean "fairer deficit reduction". Against a backdrop of such intellectual foot-dragging, Labour's boast that it had become the "party of fiscal responsibility" just looked bizarre. For this big lie alone Ed Miliband deserved to lose. And when in a TV debate he denied that Labour had spent too much in office, the audience's sharp intake of breath spoke eloquently of public contempt.

I've been asking for years, what does a Social Democratic party do when economic circumstances force the end of generous spending? It seems to me that Labour's fate will be determined by its response to this question. But if there's one location where people in the second group above - the ones who believe public spending is only limited by compassion - tend to be found, it's in the Labour party. When those people believe that the majority of Britons are wrong and they are right, how likely is it that they will change tack?

After the Tony Blair landslide in 1997 I got the 73 bus one glad confident Islington morning down the Essex Road to work, a Labour voter delighted after all those years of Tory sleaze. In the paper the Grauniad's star columnist, Hugo Young, gave his considered judgment. The Tories were out of office forever, he wrote.

Even I, at the high water mark of my infatuation with the People's Party, knew this was bollocks. The Tories would be back. It's hard to finish off a political party. Even the Lib Dems aren't finished, not even now (in fact in some ways it's easier to see a return to power for them than it is for Labour). But if Labour aren't finished, and common sense suggests they're not, they're nevertheless going to have to do some hard thinking in the next few months.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

New Labour Leader wanted

Elections are fun provided you don't actually lose, and there's been a good deal to enjoy in the aftermath. The pollsters were wrong, as were almost all the pundits, and seeing them flop around like a fish on the bank has been a compelling spectacle.  The ones who did call it correctly may well have just been lucky, but nonetheless hats off to Dan Hodges, a former UNITE official now writing for the Torygraph, who has said consistently for the last couple of years that the Tories would win, and had a convincing explanation to back his prediction up.

So why did Labour lose? I don't know, and neither do you. No-one does.But that doesn't stop every pundit with an opinion having a pop, from the gleeful Right to the lamenting Left.

When I think of the time I could have spent reading why-oh-why comment pieces in the Guardian, I shudder at the terrible waste of it all. Labour was too Left wing, say some. Labour was too Right wing (yes, I know) say others. It was all the fault of the Tory press. It was the BBC's fault. It was the fault of first-past-the-post.

Not many have pointed out the obvious. On the whole people voted Tory because they preferred that party's policies to those of the others. Labour can either choose to be more like them, or try and persuade their voters that they're wrong and hope that events in the next five years vindicate them.

Whatever, this was a disastrous election for Labour. The Tories, thwarted in the last Parliament by the Lib Dems (remember them?), will now implement the Boundary Commission report. That will give them at least 20 more MPs in the next parliament than they would otherwise have got. Moreover when Cameron steps down in 2018 or 19 they will probably elect Boris.

I'm not amongst the Mayor of London's fans, but it's hard to see where Labour can find someone as telegenic or popular. Chuka Umuna is a smoothie, but how would he play north of Watford? David Miliband might be persuaded out of retirement - we'll find out shortly - but even he, with ten times more gravitas than his brother - can come across as cold and cerebral. The one figure the Tories might have feared, Dan Jarvis, has just announced that he won't run. The rest are not outstanding. Andy Burnham will be perceived as a Union puppet, and anyway resembles a minor character in Thunderbirds. Yvette Cooper is a bit dull; Liz Kendall is bright but untested. The Tories must be laughing their heads off.

Mervyn King, former governor of the Bank of England, said that whoever won in 2010 would be out of office for a long time thereafter. He turned out to be wrong, but nevertheless this was an election Miliband junior should have won. The Tories inherited an economy with a galloping deficit which they had to bring under control, and although public spending carried on rising, ring-fenced areas meant some departments had to make deep cuts. But Labour still lost.

One thing of which you can be absolutely certain. It won't occur to many Labour politicians or supporters that they might have been wrong, and that the other lot (and the people who voted for them), might have been right. I think Labour is in a terrible bind because a Social Democratic party, whose raison d'etre is spending a lot of money on services, has nowhere to go when "There is no money left". The electorate doesn't find credible Labour's cries for more spending funded by yet another levy on bankers' bonuses.

So two predictions. One, unless there is some Black Swan event that none of us can predict, the Tories will win again in 2020 or thereabouts. Two, that whoever is leading Labour at the time will resign and be replaced by Sir Keir Starmer, newly elected MP for Holborn St Pancras. You read it here first.

Monday, 11 May 2015

The SNP, George Kerevan and Partial Fiscal Autonomy

In the run-up to the election the Scottish businessman and blogger Kevin Hague has done a sterling service on his blog picking apart the wilder claims of the SNP.  In particular in a recent post Full Fiscal Autonomy in 700 words he dismantles in the most thorough, even-handed and scrupulous way the claim that FFA could feasibly represent a workable way of continuing current levels of spending for Scotland.

Without wishing to put words into Hague's mouth - and I really do urge you to read his posts on FFA - he makes the point that Scotland is receiving about £1450 extra per person per year from Westminster in public spending, but generates about £250 less in tax revenue per year.  Under FFA therefore Scotland would have to generate about £1700 per person a year in tax revenue in order to be able to carry on spending at the level it currently does.  Unless the Scottish economy should suddenly start performing vastly better (using levers to which only the SNP would appear to be privy), Scotland will not have more public money under FFA than it has now but less.  £9.1 billion less in fact.

In 2012/13 public spending in Scotland was about £65 billion.  On these figures therefore Scotland would have to absorb a 15% spending cut if it chose FFA.

Of course, Hague is quick to point out that the Scottish government could try to fill the gap by swingeing tax rises, but he also notes that this would have consequences in terms of companies wishing to invest in Scotland and the willingness of high earning and talented people to carry on living and working there. FFA will, Hague believes, be a disaster for Scotland, and one which will hit the poorest hardest as their benefits are cut, as government services atrophy and job prospects diminish.

It won't surprise anyone familiar with the tone of much Nationalist discourse that Hague has received the direst possible abuse on social media, abuse to which he has attempted so far as I can see to respond in a decent manner without abandoning the forensic approach which marks his writing.  At the same time he must have found it frustrating that the response on the Nationalist side to his forensic destruction of their plans has been so intellectually feeble. And that it doesn't, apparently, make one iota of difference to the wide-eyed Indy zealots.

Until now.

For in a strange irony, the newly elected MP for East Lothian, Kevin Hague's own constituency, George Kerevan has made a startling statement in The National, the new pro-SNP newspaper.

It runs as follows.

"For Scotland to accept fiscal autonomy without inbuilt UK-wide fiscal balancing would be tantamount to economic suicide.  However, all federal systems have mechanisms for cross-subsidising regions in economic need by regions in surplus.  To deny that to Scotland suggests a disingenuous Mr Cameron is hoping to derail any move to Scottish Home Rule within the UK".

Translation. If we are to have FFA, where Scotland raises and spends all its own tax revenue, we must have a system of fiscal transfers, where richer countries (like England for example), bail us out from time to time.  So actually under FFA Scotland wouldn't be raising all its own tax revenue, according to Mr Kerevan.

Now I am not denying Mr Kerevan is right that federal systems like the USA have fiscal transfers in place so that richer states subsidise the poorer ones.  Kerevan has apparently been an economics lecturer for 25 years, so he ought to be clued up on this. But think of the implications.  The SNP's stated ultimate goal is independence, and FFA is just a staging post on the way.  How many fiscal transfers will there be after independence?  None.

So when Mr Kerevan writes "fiscal autonomy without . . . . fiscal balancing would be tantamount to economic suicide" what he's actually implying is that Independence would be economic suicide too.

Actually it would be even worse. Why?

Because once outside the Union iScotland wouldn't just be missing fiscal transfers (ie English subsidy).  It would have no central bank and therefore no control over interest rates or lender of last resort. So its own borrowing would be more expensive. Mortgages would be dearer and harder to come by because of uncertainty over Scotland's future currency. Its financial service industry, which largely services England, would melt away south. Its health service would be under increased strain because its population is less healthy and has an older profile than rUKs.

For Scotland FFA, with or without fiscal transfers, is in fact infinitely preferable to Independence. Yet even on this the SNP has gone strangely quiet. Kevin Hague has been unable to get straight answers from George Kerevan. Nicola Sturgeon has disputed the accuracy of the figures (even though they come from the Scottish Government's own statistics) or said the gap would be filled by more borrowing. The SNP's line is that its thumping new mandate won't mean a second Referendum any time soon.

The SNP's position was characterised by one Twitter wag as follows -

"What do we want?"
"Full fiscal autonomy!"
"When do we want it?"
"Not yet!"

But this is to give too much credit to the SNP.  Better might be -

"What do we want?"
"Full fiscal autonomy plus balancing transfers from England!"
"When do we want it?"
"Now and forever!"

Perhaps Partial Fiscal Autonomy then. Or maybe just Son of Barnett Formula.