Alistair Darling is fixated on it to the extent he’s lost sight of his own argument, George Osborne can’t stop telling the Scots they can’t have it, and Alex Salmond is adamant he wants to keep it. What is this obsession with the pound? Aside from being a symbol of Britishness and past prosperity, is it really worth its weight in gold?
Pictures of the Queen in the Bank of England walking alongside the shimmering blocks of what represents the strongest indicator of wealth are now largely symbolic. What wasn’t sold in the ’90s is now mostly owned by the BRIC countries; British property is owned by Saudi sheiks, Russian oligarchs, and the rest of the 1%. Privatisation has seen the UK turned into an auction house where anything is up for grabs by US investment firms at absurdly low prices.
The UK Treasury has actively indulged in quantitative easing for decades now, slowly debasing the currency ever since Thatcher, Reagan, and neoliberalism took root at the economic system. Since then the City of London has engaged in and actively endorsed rapacious gambling in the financial sector, with the UK now harbouring the largest tax avoidance scheme in the world. This is why the City is so powerful – and where the real meaning of money has become completely lost. Algorithms are now used to buy up stocks and shares in fractions of milliseconds, resulting in millions of pounds of profit that can be made in the blink of an eye before they are inevitably sold on to start the process all over again.
And this available money is largely down to society’s ever-increasing debt. Selling debt is profitable, hence why the student loan fund is being broken up to allow private firms to buy and sell it on, and why Wonga and other pay-day loan companies continue to report record profits at the expense of the desperate. But because this money is never trickling down, or travelling from the top of the cornflake box to the bottom as Boris Johnson painfully analogised, the result is the gaping inequality we continue to witness since the emergence of neoliberal economics and the self regulating free market charade. But it is because of this economic model that many see the economic argument as being the most important decider come the 18th.
Stepping back for a moment, concerns about currency are concerns about capital, and of course this remains within the context of a Capitalist society. Capital is how individuals interpret achieving and maintaining some sort of freedom. But of course this is ultimately the freedom to buy, consume, and spend. As singer Dick Gaughan put it back in the 1980s, we are instead mostly free to be poor, depressed, unhealthy and unhappy. Most who have difficulty with the economic uncertainty of an independent Scotland are therefore more likely to be preoccupied with the material: the house over ones head, the car, the latest technology. These things are what make most people feel complete. Many psychologists and anthropologists however see these very things as limiting our sense of satisfaction. People generally view status and salary as secondary to having time off work, the ability to travel and the time to spend with other people. And it is those voting yes who tend to be more inclined to be moved on these issues as opposed to the economic.
Neither the Icelandic Krona, Swedish Krona, or Norwegian Krone have the same perceived economic power or notoriety as the British pound or US dollar, but all three countries remain above the UK and America in terms of social mobility, happiness, and health. Surely it is time instead to start basing assessments of a successful society on these gauges, rather than on the woefully self-serving economic trajectory that led to the 2008 crash? A crash which opened the floodgates for financiers to scoop up even more assets at drop-down prices while ordinary people faced economic ruin.
So why can’t we start from scratch? Is it such an inconceivable prospect? The fear many harbour is based upon years of social and political conditioning that has elevated monetary value above all other things. Talents are far more rich when left unjudged by such a system. People are resourceful and intuitive, and likely barter on a daily basis where at the point of agreement no money ever exchanges hands. In fact the richest in our society rarely pay for anything at all. There are of course other factors at work but what has become more apparent since this campaign has taken hold is that pockets of the population across the globe are deeply unhappy with the current system. And it is here that an independent Scotland has a unique opportunity.
Numerous economists such as Steve Keen, Andrew Ginsberg, Thomas Pikkety, Max Keiser and the American blog zero hedge all argue the economic system needs to be repaired, and significantly so when it is described by those not tied to the traditional Austrian or Chicago schools as being a massive Ponzi scheme. Even ‘undecided’ independent economist Jo Armstrong has admitted that you “can take any [economic] statistics and analyse them, but at some point you can never move forward – voting yes is a leap of faith”.
The Common Weal is proposing a new tax system. Why can’t the same be done with the fiscal system? Years of studying the financial sector rather than the economy reveals how distorted economics has become. The Scots should be resoundingly elated at having the opportunity to completely alter this outlook and design a communal system that can firstly be understood by all, but also benefit all. Even economics students at Manchester University are demanding that course content be updated after it has been revealed time and time again that the libertarian economics and free market system we employ leads to a spectrum of decline, deprivation and loss.
Uncertainty and hesitance is to be expected. But no country that has ever become independent – usually through bloody wars and strife – has ever kept the currency of the country from which it seceded. And rarely declined the opportunity to become independent. It seems that barriers are being erected where none need to be. Years of propaganda and the entrenched class system stifling social mobility has in many respects diminished individual creativity and collective power. We are taught to solve problems as children, while as adults we create them.
Countries such as Iceland have proven this very concept achievable by jailing bankers and expelling those from government who acted with such heinous self interest. The country is no utopia but it is certainly more reminiscent of what it means to be human than our society has reflected since disaster Capitalism took root. Profit is no longer the driving force.
Even considering the SNP’s policy is to keep the pound, a path towards a currency free from the largely secretive dealings of the UK Treasury can be mapped. Economist Ronald McDonald has said remaining in a currency union would result in a Scottish economy crashing after seven years, but “if an independent Scotland had a separate [new] currency then I’m sure in the longer term it could survive and prosper”. A separate currency “is the only tenable plan B, to be perfectly candid”. A perfectly feasible option. The personal attacking of Salmond just makes it easier to deflect from the issue at hand. The Union can in the short term rubbish policies because they are being delivered by an individual. Never mind that the individual is largely insignificant when it comes to the opportunity of building a new democratic system designed by and for an entire country that really questions the fundamentals of what it is to be a prosperous nation.
And it is this economic Stockholm syndrome that is reflected in the fear tactics of ‘no thanks’. Aside from the fact the branding sounds utterly wet, it stinks of their own fear. The fear of rocking the boat, any boat, is reflected in the recent Better Together campaign broadcast. If women needed a reminder of what Westminster has generally thought about the female gender since its inception then that was it. Obtuse, economically ignorant and only around to satisfy the men in their lives who are inevitably better equipped at making decisions because they are, men. This is the very status quo that is largely symbolic of a Union that lacks social progression, vision and inclusivity – why would the economic system hanker to be anything different.
The fact remains however that the issue of currency is a debate within a debate. It becomes more and more difficult to argue on the premise that the current economy is sound to further argue us retaining it, when the real question should be whether retaining it could in fact cause us far more harm than good.