Britain sees world’s sharpest fall in Covid cases – The Spectator

The UK vaccine rollout has been in the world’s top five. And for all its recent troubles, AstraZeneca has shown in real-world tests to be every bit as effective as suggested in trials.

Hundreds of millions wasted by SNP incompetence – ThinkScotland

FAILING AND DELAYED procurement projects are burning a very big hole in Scottish taxpayers’ pockets – SNP ministers can’t seem to stop themselves from scuppering contracts they oversee themselves.

The scandal of the CalMac ferry contract is a good example. In 2015 the SNP chose the highest bidder, the shipyard Ferguson Marine, to build two ferries. Constriction began before design was completed and six years later the ferries are still not complete and a £97 million contract is now expected to cost at least £230 million.

The £840 million Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow, which eventually opened in 2015, was another SNP procurement disaster, with sewage leaking into operating theatres and a series of other dangerous contamination problems. At least four people died as a consequence. Infections caused by pigeon droppings spreading through contaminated air vents caused the deaths of two patients. Staff had raised concerns about safety but were ignored. For example, in 2014, before the hospital opened, a consultant microbiologist raised issues in writing but was told, “you’re new to Glasgow, but here we don’t put things in writing because of inquiries and things.” The SNP has since been forced to appoint a public inquiry but these take time and will not report until well after the May 2021 elections.

Other procurement disasters include the saga of the sick children’s hospital in Little France, Edinburgh, which was originally due to open in 2012, but only opened at the end of March after incessant delays over the last decade. It was originally meant to cost £150 million, but faults in the air conditioning and drainage systems not only delayed opening, but added a further £90 million to the bill while it lay empty.  An inquiry into the repeated failure of the Edinburgh hospital is due to begin in September 2021.

Austerity and deprivation – future of Scotland under Nicola Sturgeon’s – Daily Express

‘Scotland has fallen victim to the nationalist playbook, divide and conquer. Our traditional left-right politics of arguing how best to improve opportunity and make good the lives of those who struggle has been replaced by a tawdry battle of Yes and No.’

Eyes on the prize. Sadly such is the state of our politics at present that the prize is not addressing our shattered economy or putting our education system back on its feet. It is simply preventing an outright nationalist Government in the next Scottish Parliament. Scotland has fallen victim to the nationalist playbook, divide and conquer. Our traditional left-right politics of arguing how best to improve opportunity and make good the lives of those who struggle has been replaced by a tawdry battle of Yes and No.

The Scotland we are fighting over was ironically created by the Union, pulled together from the clans that had fought each other at the Battle of Shirts and later at Culloden along with competing lowland interests.

Our Scotland which thrived under the Union and punched way above our weight in the global successes and politics of the centuries.

We speak of the Union dividend as not one simply of money but of culture, of family, of shared interest.

The nationalists recognise none of this, they snarl with anger and contempt at the idea of pooled resource. They send angry missives about stolen oil as they drive down the roads and cross the bridges that it built.

They pronounce themselves kinder, more respectful and more civic as they renounce Scots Tories as scum, brand Labour as Red Tories and demand the English leave Scotland – and nowhere are those voices of bitter contempt louder than in the First Minister’s city of Glasgow, where the SNP has delivered austerity and deprivation.

It is their model for a future Scotland.

Eyes on the prize, for the nationalists the prize is the destruction of the Union and thus far they have played that game well. They have changed the devolution settlement from a Scottish Parliament running the country’s once proud public services into an outpost of opposition to the rest of Britain, neglecting our education and welfare while taking ownership of our flag and turning us against ourselves.

They have rewritten history to pit England against Scotland and used Holyrood to deepen division with false claims of assaults on our rights and freedoms by the United Kingdom.

So sophisticated has their campaign of destruction been that truth and lies are now interwoven not only in politics but in our Civil Service and Judiciary.

Such is their success that they hold 59 out of 73 constituency seats in a total of 129 and have used this power base to manipulate their minority support into a sense of overwhelming control.

Eyes on the prize, for unionists there is a sense of growing frustration and anger. Politics is a numbers game and our side has fallen victim to the tactics of division.

We are the majority acting like a minority because we are still divided by our traditional left-right politics. Labour would rather vote with the SNP then support the Conservatives.

Whilst Anas Sarwar talks of healing, he rejects any meaningful options to work with the other parties.

Douglas Ross offers the hand of friendship with the confidence of knowing it will be rejected.

Neither man wants to face asking their candidates to stand aside, and no candidate is willingly offering.

Meanwhile, Willie Rennie urges his supporters to stick with them knowing they will not come anywhere near winning most of the seats but instead ensuring a unionist party doesn’t.

They all urge ‘use both votes for us’ whilst the nationalists titter with glee at the easy pickings. Alex Salmond has joined the fray. But this is merely a distraction because whilst everyone haggles over the list and argues about the vote split the prize is being forgotten.

Eyes on the prize, 73 first past the post constituency seats, 59 of which currently give the nationalists their power base; it’s the reason they control the parliament even as a minority Government. If the unionist parties place all their hopes on mere survival through the 56 list seats, they are playing to lose.

To beat nationalism the major pro-union parties need to take the constituency seats and their focus and worry about the list is simply a taste of their strategic defeat.

It will take more than this election to achieve but they should be making that start now. None of them alone can take on the rise of nationalism, they need each other. Instead egos and self interest have become the order of the day.

So the voters must decide. If their eyes are on the prize, then unionists will look at which unionist party can win their local constituency and vote for them without reservation. You can then vote for whom ever you want on the list vote and maybe, just maybe Holyrood will become what was intended, a coalition of parties whose eyes are on the prize. The prize of a Scotland with local decision making in the interests of the people, with the benefit of the union dividend.

US report ‘UK likely to continue to punch above its weight’ – UK Defence Journal

The U.S. National Intelligence Council has released the seventh edition of its quadrennial report ‘Global Trends 2040: A More Contested World’.

The report is an unclassified assessment of the forces and dynamics that the NIC anticipates are likely to shape the national security environment over the next 20 years.

“States will face a combination of highly destructive and precise conventional and strategic weapons, cyber activity targeting civilian and military infrastructure, and a confusing disinformation environment. Regional actors, including spoilers such as Iran and North Korea, will jockey to advance their goals and interests, bringing more volatility and uncertainty to the system.”

As for ‘other major powers’ besides the USA and China, the report says that Russia is ‘likely to remain a disruptive power’; while the UK is ‘likely to continue to punch above its weight internationally given its strong military and financial sector and its global focus.

“The United Kingdom is likely to continue to punch above its weight internationally given its strong military and financial sector and its global focus. The United Kingdom’s nuclear capabilities and permanent UN Security Council membership add to its global influence. Managing the economic and political challenges posed by its departure from the EU will be the country’s key challenge; failure could lead to a splintering of the United Kingdom and leave it struggling to maintain its global power.”

Fewer than one in five Scots believe independence is most important issue – The Scotsman

The poll, undertaken by Savanta ComRes for The Scotsman, suggests the Scottish public is most likely to back an SNP majority or an SNP/Green coalition as the “best mandate” for a second independence referendum.

It also showed more than two thirds of voters who said they will vote for the SNP on the regional list viewed themselves as “unlikely” to back Alex Salmond’s new party.

As part of the survey respondents were asked to pick their three “most important issues facing Scotland”, including options such as immigration, Brexit and housing.

Of the options, the economy was picked by half of Scots as one of the most important issues, health by 45 per cent of Scots, and employment and welfare by 35 per cent of Scots.

Education (31 per cent), Brexit (25 per cent) and independence (19 per cent) were the next choices, with housing (16 per cent) and the environment (17 per cent) next on the list.

It is the first time fewer than one in five have viewed independence as one of the top issues facing Scotland, and is down four points from a high of 23 per cent during this series of polls.

The poll showed support for the union and independence neck and neck with Yes on 50 per cent and No on 50 per cent after don’t knows are excluded.

However, the poll showed the number of Scots who want to see a referendum within the next two years is at 38 per cent with 53 per cent believing it should take place within the next five years or sooner.

More than one in five (22 per cent) of Scots never want another independence referendum, with one in nine saying it should take place in more than ten years.

Why Sterling is the UK’s silver bullet – PolicyExchange

In a few weeks’ time, the Scottish electorate will vote a new parliament into Holyrood with all the pundits predicting a majority for the incumbent Scottish National Party led by Nicola Sturgeon. She will campaign on the basis that a majority gives the SNP a mandate for a second Independence Referendum to be held early in the new parliament. This is despite constitutional matters being reserved to the UK Government in Westminster and despite previous SNP assurances that they would respect the democratic result of the 2014 IndyRef1 “for a generation”. For those of us who recoil in horror at the thought of another bitter and divisive referendum in Scotland, especially in the middle of the COVID pandemic, it is incumbent upon us once again to advance the positive arguments in favour of the UK. I believe the most important weapon of all is Sterling, the sovereign currency of the UK.

Since the date of first issuance of government gilts in 1691, the UK has never once defaulted on its debts. The three record high periods of government borrowing were the Napoleonic Wars in the early 19th century (300% of GDP) and the two world wars of the 20th century (200% and 250% of GDP respectively). The cost of WWII was repaid in 50 instalments the last of which was settled with the US and Canada in 2006. Current UK government borrowing at the year ended Mar’ 20 was 85% of GDP and this is estimated to increase to 100% post COVID. This clean history of borrowing and repayment is an enormous legacy for the modern United Kingdom and one which now – as we seek to combat the SNP’s quest for division – we should exploit. As someone who has spent a life around Britain’s money markets, I want to us weaponise our currency dividend for the Union.

Sterling is the ‘share price’ of the UK as a sovereign economic entity which gives us access to international capital markets. In short, Sterling is the silver bullet of the Union because it allows our government to create money on behalf of ‘we the people’. Of course, every country can have its own currency, but the magic of Sterling is that it is one of the world’s top five reserves currencies (Dollar, Pound, Euro, Swiss Franc and Yen) precisely because the UK has never once defaulted. This gives us pricing power and, therefore, access to cheaper funding than most other nations. So Sterling provides us with privileged access to the vast sums of international funds which are looking for a safe home. The added great news for all of us right now, is that funding is currently available to the UK at rock bottom prices.

At this point, I hear the Tory hard-core muttering unhappily that we must “live within our means”, that “vast debt is for the Labour Party”, that “we are the party of fiscal rectitude” and that “we exist to clean up the mess of socialist governments”. Some of that is true, but only because Labour governments don’t know how to deploy capital efficiently and economically, not because it is wrong for governments ‘to borrow’. After a decade of austerity, where successive Tory Chancellors have parroted these same old lines, it’s time now to slay some of these old Tory dogmas and dispel these ingrained myths of post-war economics.

Dogma number one: that government deficits are bad. By Newton’s 3rd law, if the government is in deficit, some-one-else must be in surplus. So, who is the government’s counter party? Answer: we the people. So how can we the people being in surplus be a bad thing? Answer: only if the government spends its deficit on things which don’t benefit we the people. If it spends its deficit on good and worthwhile things that benefit us like our health, our pensions, our defence, our economy, our education, our jobs, our housing and our environment, how can that be a bad thing?

Dogma number two: that the state has no money. This was a myth peddled by Margaret Thatcher; she famously once said the state’s spending power was limited to its citizens’ ability to pay tax. The grocer’s daughter was confused by her father’s sound advice that we as individuals, households, families, companies and corporations must live within our means. That is true. But that does not apply to a sovereign state like the UK with a 330-year track record of issuing government securities which never default. The UK is a currency issuer not a currency user. We the people are currency users who must live within our means. In contrast, a currency issuer like the UK government, trusted by investors to always repay its gilts, can spend ahead of its current tax collection so long as it nurtures a growing economy which will always repay these investments over the long term.

Dogma number three: that government issuance of gilts is borrowing. When I borrow, it comes with stringent conditions which I cannot dictate. If it is a mortgage, it is structured over 20 years but the price is 2% above bank base rate, it requires a 20% equity deposit and, if I default, I will lose my home to the lender. If it is a corporate loan, it will likely a seven year term with a margin of 3% over base and, if I trip a covenant, I will lose my business to the lender. In contrast, when the UK issues gilts, HM Treasury is the deal maker, not the lender. 80% of gilts are issued for term between 15-30 years, there are no covenants or events of default and the interest rate is set at bank base rate. The ‘lender’ has no recourse against the ‘borrower’ other than to wait for maturity and hope he gets repaid, which he always does. That means he is not a lender but instead an investor, and the government is not a borrower but instead a safe haven for investors.

Dogma number four: that the country cannot afford all this ‘debt’ and we are storing up problems for our grandchildren. Well, it has never been cheaper for the government to ‘borrow’ and if it invests that money wisely on levelling up this country by eradicating poverty and protecting our environment and turbo-charging our economy and sorting out our infrastructure and fixing our education system, I for one cannot think of a better use of cheap funding. And so long as our grandchildren are given a world class education allowing them to become innovative and productive citizens, they will grow the economy which will repay our gilts as well as protect our planet. Did the 250% of borrowing left by WWII ruin the life chances of the baby boomers? No, quite the opposite, they enjoyed life, grew the economy, created wealth for their families and, guess what, all the gilts got repaid.

It’s time now to call out this shrill and irrelevant counterpoint between the left and the right which has dominated western democracies for the last 50 years. The left shout ‘tax the rich’ and the right shout ‘shrink the state’. It’s all so boring and fatuous, like two bald men fighting over a comb.

Instead, we should be taking advantage of record low interest rates and using that money to invest in our future. We should look across to the US, the country with the most trusted currency of all, and mirror the ambitious $2 trillion stimulus plans of President Biden. He is using the US Dollar to overhaul and upgrade his nation’s infrastructure to create “the most resilient, innovative economy in the world” with plans to fix 20,000 miles of roads and 10,000 bridges amongst a long list of projects intended to create millions of jobs in the short run and strengthen US competitiveness in the long run. It’s bold and ambitious and reminiscent of Roosevelt’s New Deal in the ‘30s because it is focused on strengthening the social fabric of society as well as the economy by expressly targeting the twin challenges of climate change and racial equality as well as jobs and prosperity.

That’s why I would harness the power of Sterling to set up a multi-billion-pound British Levelling Up Fund which uses Britain’s world-leading expertise in investment management to be corner-stone investors in re-booting our economy for the 4th industrial revolution. Let’s put rocket-boosters underneath every business and social entrepreneur in Cardiff, Glasgow, Manchester and Newcastle, backing them to succeed, to employ 5, then 10, then 20 young people, all of whom will then repay that investment in lifetime taxes to HM Treasury. Other progressive countries like Norway and Singapore have Sovereign Wealth Funds that use the capital of the State to invest on behalf of their citizens, why don’t we? We can go much further, with an ambition to invest in social well-being as well as economic, to re-build our crumbling high streets and strengthen our local communities.

So I would say to the Prime Minister that yes this is our opportunity to level up in the UK once and for all.  Can we afford it? Yes, we can. And no it would be a daft idea to put up taxes now and choke off any economic recovery at this crucial moment.

The world we live in today is changing rapidly. The solutions will come from individuals but the state has a responsibility to pump prime our weaponry. We need a government to invest wisely and compassionately (through a combination of our state agencies, private sector and third sector partners) and to tax people fairly and proportionately. Thereafter, Sterling will do the heavy lifting; it is the currency of the United Kingdom, available only to the nations which remain within the Union, where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, and which allows governments to invest ahead of growth. Currency is the Achilles heel of the Scottish Nationalist movement because, without a trusted currency, an Independent Scotland will be denied access to funding at the scale and price available to the UK and instead will be consigned to austerity never seen before in modern times.

Sterling is the silver bullet that can make Britain work better for us all, and lead the positive case for the Union.

Letters to the press, 14/04/21: Taxi for Philip, Cost of independence, Vaccination has been a UK effort.