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.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Why would anyone vote Tory?

This is Danny Finkelstein's explanation in today's Times. It's worth quoting at some length. Apologies to Mr Murdoch for any copyright issues.

The basis of (Britain's) prosperity, liberty, tolerance and stability is our liberal market economy founded upon property rights and the rule of law.

The success of this economy is the most important thing to safeguard because of all that flows from it. I believe passionately in decent public services and a welfare state, but I believe equally passionately that they depend upon a thriving economy. . . those who want to replace capitalism with something else haven't a clue what they actually mean when they express that sentiment.  Nor can they point to a single successful alternative to capitalism that exists anywhere in the world.  While I wait for Russell Brand to think of one, I will remain calm about capitalism's imminent demise.

I do however believe that Ed Miliband and (the SNP) are hoping to ride to power on the back of two linked ideas about the market economy that are profoundly dangerous.

The first idea is that the limits of public spending are only set by the limits of our goodwill and compassion.  This idea has formed the core of every Labour campaign in my lifetime and been the downfall of every Labour government. . . . In every election since it was founded in 1948, Labour has argued that there are just hours left to save (the NHS) from destruction by the horrible Tories. . . Yet since 1948 there have been 40 years of Conservative government and the NHS is still here.  If the Tories are working on destroying the NHS they are certainly taking their time about it.

The idea that the NHS is about to be subjected, or has been subjected to some horrible right wing punishment is a childish way of escaping the obvious problem - that what prevents us from being able to buy every medical treatment we want for every person all the time is that there isn't enough money to do that.  And trying to ignore that problem across every public service and in welfare means we end up with huge borrowing.  That undermines the future of the welfare state with much greater certainty than any Tory moral failing.  That is what Labour did last time.

"I'm afraid there is no money".  Why not carve that on an 8ft stone, Ed, and stick it in your garden?

The second dangerous idea about the market economy is that the key to making people richer is to keep taking more from the very wealthy and from business.  It is not that this notion is completely wrong.  Of course we need progressive taxes, of course businesses should show a responsible attitude to employees and of course the law plays a role in making that happen.

Yet in the end, believing that can tax ourselves to prosperity is a delusion.  It assumes people will come and bring their businesses here in order to pay more tax.  It assumes no one will compete with our goods and services as we raise wages and regulation.

Just like borrowing too much, it can work for a time, but it can't work for a long time.  In the end, the only thing that can sustain our welfare state and pay people decent wages is to make things and sell things and keep getting better at both of those.

We can't spend what we don't have.  We can't have what we don't make.

There is plenty that can be said against David Cameron's government.  I know that.  But ultimately I think as prime minister he has the firmest grip on this essential point.  The firmest grip on reality.

The last five years Britain has done something very important.  It has shown the will to drive down current spending costs and get the economy growing again.  The case for David Cameron is that we will only go on doing that if he is returned to office.

Election day is tomorrow.

Donald Dewar, Ed Miliband and the West Lothian Question

I said I would stop political blogging, but with the election tomorrow . . . .

Like you, I have no idea what's going to happen. There's been much talk about whether Labour, if it isn't the largest party, could form a coalition with the SNP. Ed Miliband has ruled out any "deals", but of course as an ex-lawyer I'd be wanting to know exactly what he meant by "deals". I wouldn't be at all surprised to see a minority Labour government dependent on support from the Nats.

Would this be legitimate? Of course it depends on what that means too. My inclination is no.

Look at it this way. During the last parliament the forty-odd Labour MPs from Scotland forced the Tories into coalition. Without them, at least as far as matters pertaining to England are concerned, the Tories could have governed alone. In that sense Scottish Labour MPs were decisive.

As far as the UK as a whole was concerned that was fine. Of course Scottish MPs should be influential on subjects like defence or taxation. But what about health and education? These are matters which are devolved to the Scottish Parliament. Why should Scottish MPs have a say on what happens to education policy down here?

This situation, indefensible when Scottish MPs were merely forcing the Tories into Coalition, will become insupportable if Scottish MPs are helping a government pass legislation.

We will then be in the situation that Scottish voters are electing representatives to make decisions which will affect the English but which will not affect Scottish voters themselves. To put it another way, if the English don't like the decisions the Scottish MPs make, there is nothing they can do to eject them from office; and for the Scottish constituents there is no incentive to boot their MP out since decisions in which their MP participates won't affect them anyway.

To be clear, this has nothing to do with the flood of SNP MPs which is apparently coming. For me the fact that the SNP wants to break up the UK is not, as it is for some, reason for stopping them forming part of the government. It is a question of who those SNP members represent, their influence over people they don't represent, the lack of accountability to those people and the fact that their own constituents won't be affected by their decisions on crucial areas of English policy nor indeed have any incentive to remove them from office. That's fundamentally undemocratic.

Imagine if most English voters decide they don't like a Labour / SNP education bill and want to boot out the government.  On this issue a good proportion of Labour's support, perhaps one fifth, would come from Scottish voters totally unaffected by the legislation.  Voting those MPs out would be impossible for an English electorate.

No taxation without representation, goes the slogan.  Here's another.  No power without accountability.

Ah, I hear you say, but you've admitted yourself that Scottish MPs can properly speak on UK wide issues. You can't have two tier MPs, forming part of the government on UK wide matters but not on English ones.

Well I agree. And here - a place I very much regret starting from - we are at last with the West Lothian Question. Writ Large. It's a great shame Donald Dewar is dead. He was a decent man who brushed away Tam Dalyell's awkward questions and we are now likely to have the consequences fester across British politics for five years.

If Labour ends up trying to form a government with the SNP there will be trouble.  It would be fundamentally unfair to the English for Ed Miliband to rule England with the help of MPs from Scotland. Unfortunately it would also be fundamentally unfair to the Scots for Ed Miliband to turn down the chance to govern the UK as a whole with the help of MPs from Scotland. Whichever path Miliband chose would be unfair.  And whichever path he chose, Independence would be be more likely.

Donald Dewar thought devolution would settle the Independence question once and for all. How wrong he was.