…then you can probably understand a large chunk of what matters in practical management of the economy and allied matters. So much economics is rubbish, witness the terrible track record of academic economists when they issue their fatwas on Maggie, Brexit etc.
The other consistent issue is the abuse of JM Keynes’ thinking and advice to justify almost any stupid politically inspired policy (see the last Labour administration). As it’s been pointed out:
Keynes was determined to establish for the post-war world a global exchange rate regime that placed equal obligations on deficit and surplus countries to adjust, thereby ensuring that the new system did not have a deflationary bias. This is most definitely not the system that we have today.
The extract is from a very good article by City economist Roger Bootle and businessman John Mills (a Labour supporter), both of whom have long argued that the pre-Brexit overvaluing of the pound has beeen very bad indeed, and that the current correction is essentially good **. The whole piece is sound, but here’s a key paragraph, looking at the basic concepts:
Moreover, there are links between the current account deficit and the UK’s other serious deficit, namely the fiscal one. The financial balance of the UK private sector, UK public sector and the overseas sector must sum to zero. Accordingly, if the government tries to improve its financial position (i.e. the gap between expenditure and tax revenue) without there being an improvement in Britain’s overseas balance, then this can only happen through a worsening of the private sector financial balance, which is often difficult to achieve. Another way of putting this is that policies of austerity often fail. By contrast, a spontaneous improvement in the current account of the balance of payments would usually improve the financial balance of both the public and private sectors. Higher incomes (from net exports) would automatically improve the financial balance of the private sector and, as they pay taxes on this income (and receive fewer state benefits because of increased income) the public deficit will fall.
You don’t have to agree with them, but as a context in which to discuss the detail, it’s spot on.
When visiting the splendid museums and galleries of New York, it becomes pretty obvious that we much of what has been casually labelled ‘modern’ art – such as in the hugely popular MoMA (Museum of Modern Art, of course) and the Whitney – is in fact not very modern at all. Iconic he may be, but the somewhat limited Warhol’s screenprints have the air of musty history about them. Edward Hopper is great, but he’s redolent of the era when my dad was still at school. Picasso too, even the wackily named Futurists, much as I like them, are from more than 100 years ago. There are lots of similar examples.
Go to the Guggenheim, and if you’re unlucky, you’ll find that the best thing on display is the enduring brilliance of the building itself, given the vagaries of contemporary art. Getting an exhibition in the Guggenheim is a meal ticket for any artist, but perhaps only 50% on a good day is actually any good (I know it’s subjective, and that’s my take on it). What it is though, is modern. Even the crap stuff usually has a freshness that has its own beguilement.
Which brings me to Beethoven.
Stravinsky – referring to a specific piece, the Grosse Fugue for string quartet, op 133 – famously described his work as ‘contemporary forever’. That work was described by an 1826 critic as “incomprehensible, like Chinese” and “a confusion of Babel”, and I would add that it is indeed an ear splitting gem of furious dissonance and angst – which sounds rather 21st century as a description , I suppose. It was written in 1825. If you’re a piano geek, you may know that the biggest, most brutal, most intense and most impenetrable of all the 32 piano sonatas is the Hammerklavier, from 1818. It has a lot in common with the quartet 7 years later. The Hammerklavier is opus 106. I have heard probably 30 or more different versions of it over the last three decades, and I still haven’t fully fathomed it. Far from it (this marvellous review is very insightful). Like the Grosse Fuge, it is absolutely, resolutely contemporary. It knocks modern classical piano compositions out of the park. It is more far reaching or ‘daring’ than any 20th or 21st century piece.
Which is why I was intrigued to find opus 107, an obvious next step that I’d never really considered before. It couldn’t have a more twee 19th century title: Ten National Airs with Variations for Flute and Piano, the national airs being folk songs from Scotland, Ukraine, Austria, Ireland and Wales. Beethoven sanctioned a piano solo version, sacrificing the flute. My copy is played by the slightly maverick Finn, Olli Mustonen. He always seems to apply great dexterity and precision, but with a slightly spiky quality. You can hear the spaces between the notes. A lot of the critics don’t like this applied to Beethoven, but given the points I’ve made about Beethoven being anything but trapped in the 19th century style, I reckon it works. The spaces around the musical line remind me a bit of the Second Viennese School, though Beethoven is reliably tonal. In any event, hear how he takes likeable jaunty folk tunes and turns them inside out. It’s far from the Hammerklavier (though it’s nearly the same length at 41 minutes) and the Grosse Fuge, but it’s still, well, contemporary. See what you think.
Just when you’re ready to groan inwardly at yet another tired Hitler comparison, along comes a cracker from the twitterfeed of the estimable Sir James MacMillan, linking to a 15 year old Guardian piece. This intriguingly provides further proof of the synergy between one set of demagogic nationalists – guess who – and another (the SNP). See what I mean?
The basic scenario is that the German wartime ambassador to Dublin was involved in a plan to create an independent Scotland allied to Germany, for example “It proposed a German-Scottish alliance as a ‘weapon in the fight against the gross materialism of the capitalistic-communistic union of English, Americans, Bolsheviks, etc’. It asked for war material to be sent from Ireland so that advantage could be taken of a general panic in England to declare a republic in Scotland. It also proposed a Celtic union with headquarters in Dublin.”
Funnily enough, two years ago I wrote about the overt plans of Hitler’s right hand man in planning a postwar (German victory) Europe. This was SS dweeb Werner Best, who survived until 1989. Best was up for “a federal Britain with autonomy for Scotland”. That came from Michael Burleigh’s fantastic book on the Third Reich, and as I wrote in my earlier post: Burleigh goes on to state, in exquisite phraseology, referring to ‘Celt’ nationalists of the time :These people were parochial in every negative sense of the word, the fascistic, resentful face of petty nationalism everywhere..
As the Guardian article correctly points out: Nazi Germany’s interest in Scotland had dated from the Thirties. So-called ‘Celtic scholars’, including a postgraduate student, Gerhard von Tevenar, cultivated leading figures in the Scottish renaissance and in its blossoming nationalist movement. Leading nationalists were entertained in Germany.
October’s a busy month: ploughing (weighed down with a rock), sowing the next crop, archery, bird scaring, various people messing around by the river. They’re ploughing and sowing round here too, at the moment, in my corner of Nordeuropa.
The obvious unseasonal element in the picture though, is a huge badass castle, only this one wasn’t owned by Jean de Berry. It’s the original Louvre Palace in Paris, which did indeed stand where the current building stands, and it’s a remarkably accurate representation. Visitors to the lowest floor of the current Louvre might recognise the enormous rounded bases of the towers, which have been well preserved. The palace was built by Charles V, who happened to be Jean de Berry’s big brother, so it’s still a family affair. Amusingly, he was known as Charles the Wise, whose enemy in life was Charles the Bad, and who was succeeded as king by his son, Charles the Mad. We should bring back these handy adjectives for our own royals (Charles the Twit?).
I was at a funeral last week, and the music in the crematorium as we filed out at the end, was Morecambe and Wise’s Bring Me Sunshine, which although appropriate to the deceased, was another example of the sometimes irritating quirkiness in the current vogue of remembering our recently departed. I’ve heard Queen’s I Want to Break Free more than once. The relevance is that for a good while I’ve thought that I’d like to have the mourners at my own send off have to sit through the entirety of Bach’s Chaconne for solo violin, which usually comes in somewhere between 14 and 15 minutes.
This is not some sort of revenge fantasy, but rather a reflection on the fact that I do not think that there exists, in the entire canon of Western music, a piece that contains within it so much of what is to be human. It’s all there: Shakespeare’s seven ages of man, War and Peace, and the Judaeo-Christian belief system. If that sounds like hyperbole, it’s not intended to be, it genuinely does seem to me to contain all human experience, particularly all that is noble and good. Sorry if that sounds pretentious, but it’s true.
The trouble is, I cannot say why it seems to contain all that. It just does. My earlier post on this theme applying skills in one discipline (writing) to an entirely different one (music), was about Beethoven’s string quartets, emphasising the brilliance and verve of Roger Fiske’s prose, in conjuring up what made Beethoven’s Op18 no 1 so special. Here all I can offer is an entirely different take, which is the veteran violinist Kyung Wha Chung providing a technical analysis of the Chaconne, interspersed her expert enthusiasms (taken from Gramophone magazine, September 2016. Click on each picture).
My feelings on this are not remotely original. It’s probably the most famous solo violin piece of them all. Many people will already know that it’s really just the final movement of BWV 1004, Bach’s remarkable Partita no 2 for solo violin. There are literally hundreds of recordings, but my favourite is still the first I heard, by Nathan Milstein. The almost equally profound piano arrangement (by Busoni) is similarly ubiquitous, and again my first recording, by English gentleman Ronald Smith, is still my go to option. To close with, and see if any newcomer can see what I mean, here is the uniqueGidon Kremer, a Jew, playing this truly universal masterpiece by Bach, a Lutheran, in a Catholic church, as recommended to you all by The Knife (a Catholic).
From one of the awesome Victor Davis Hanson‘s outstanding and very readable history meisterwerks, Ripples of Battle. Trump gets this, Hillary doesn’t, and nor does the UN. I think the US electorate are with Trump (and Heraclitus) on this, one of the reasons for my prediction of 6 months ago. Hanson, I should add, published it in 2003, two years after 9/11, and long before the Daeshbags of ISIS. A prophetic piece of work
A continuing series charting the Scottish National Party, and its very overrated leader, Nicola Sturgeon’s inevitable downward trajectory (part one here):
11. Three high up Nats advise Nicola to calm down
Yes, in a party where free thinking is actually verboten, the Glorious Leader has had to endure public dissent. Kenny MacAskill, the man who freed the convicted murderer and terrorist Megrahi (though in reality just a handy frontman for the unholy cabal of Blair, Salmond and Jack Straw) in a hilariously lugubrious and pompous speech, and Alex Neil, the amiable ex Cabinet Secretary for Health, last seen being chased around a hospital car park by an irate ex-follower, have suggested that Nicola buttons it going on and on about a second independence referendum. As sentient people now realise, she only does this to placate the zoomer element – she doesn’t actually want a referendum – but boy is it irritating. So far as anyone knows, MacAskill and Neil have yet to be stealthily ‘disappeared’. The third Nat, Bruce Crawford is quite experienced and quite normal, he’s now the finance committee chairman and is actually doing what he’s meant to do by insisting that the draft Scottish budget be adequately scrutinised. Admittedly his stern critique was addressed to apparatchik Derek Mackay, rather than Sturgeon herself, but the point was well made. Such appalling adherence to basic democratic instincts is currently a thought crime of the most heinous sort.
12. The SNP redefine the word ‘crowd’
It’s a long way from the heady days of Salmond encouraging unruly marches on the Glasgow BBC HQ to the latest ‘crowd’ gathered in George Square, Glasgow, to…er…go on and on about a second independence referendum. As STV news primly observed “around 200 people attended the event throughout the day”. Which is probably about the same as my outpatient clinic area, on any one day.
13. The polls haven’t moved, except Nicola is more unpopular
YouGov at the end of August were quite clear about this: ” just 37% of Scots backing a second independence referendum and 50% opposed. Should they be successful in forcing another vote, the results would be almost identical to last time, with 54% of Scots voting against independence and 46% in favour”
Ho hum. However, they found that the hated Tories’ leader Ruth Davidson is, strangely, not hated “Overall, 46% of Scots think that Davidson is doing well, compared to 25% who think she is doing badly, giving her a net score of +21 compared to Sturgeon’s +20. Kezia Dugdale, by contrast, is seen as doing badly with a net score of -17”
Poor old Kez is pretty useless. She managed to save Sturgeon from Holyrood defeat by failing to vote herself. However, in the relevant debate NS was at her shrill, unpleasant, hectoring unprofessional worst. Hopefully we’ll be getting it on YouTube in due course. Statesmanlike she is not.
Often there is a parallel between what the Limbourgs are depicting in their monthly cycle and what goes on in the countryside of my part of northern Europe. Not this month, due to our dearth of viniculture (actually there is a tiny bit). As always with Jean de Berry, he’s happy to show the rhythm of the seasons but what he really seems to like is showing off his real estate. In this case the Château de Saumur, which is satisyingly still with us.
Saumur is a big wine growing area on the Loire. The chateau sits more above the town the in the painting, but it depends a bit on the angle from which you’re viewing it. The building is remarkably unchanged, really
This is one painting in the series where the historians are pretty sure that given the stylistic differences, the upper two thirds was a Limbourg job, while the bottom third was completed much later by Colombe. It fits, to my untrained eye. Art historian François Cali described this scene as “These extravagant towers are a dream landscape with constellations of canopies, pinnacles, gables and arrows, with their crockets fluttering against the light”, but as you can see from the above picture, the painting is hardly exaggerated, the architects for Henry II of England and Philip II of France who owned the building in the decades preceding the painting weren’t hanging back. It was actually begun more than 400 years earlier – built to last.
The painting has two nice further details: bottom left is an exhausted looking pregnant lady, and in the middle foreground is possibly the first depiction of that well known artistic motif, the ‘builder’s bum’.
A few years ago The Knife wrote a brief summary piece about the now happily discredited Alex Salmond’s ongoing attempt to use his acclaimed gifts of lying and bullying to make Scotland independent (AKA ‘still dependent, but on someone other than those English bastards’). My post was entitled Alex Salmond: My Part in His Downfall. Older readers may recognise this as an allusion to one of Spike Milligan’s war memoirs – Adolf Hitler: My Part in His Downfall. It’s a catchy phrase, but I wouldn’t want it to be taken as yet another tiresome comparison to a well known ranting demagogic bigoted nationalist despot. Heaven forbid.
The above title repeats the literary steal, in this case channelling Evelyn Waugh. I know it’s unoriginal. Oddly enough, long after my Salmond post, an excellent book appeared with the same title, written by one of the true cognoscenti in Scottish political hackery, Alan Cochrane, most recently of the Daily Telegraph, though I’m unclear whether he’s still there, given their axe swinging. It would be their loss. Cochrane is an amiable fellow and a wonderful writer, who has delighted millions with his precise and knowledgeable takes on whatever malign nonsense the SNP are promulgating in any one week.
In this respect Nicola Sturgeon is every bit as bad as the wretched Salmond, she just tends to get better press because she’s less unpleasant to the media. Her ‘achievements’ in power are limited, to put it politely. The trouble with even the well-intentioned balanced media, is that so many of them are remote from the battlefield. Superb writers like Fraser Nelson amped up the independence threat before the 2014 referendum when in all honesty it was never a goer. It still isn’t. The Nats are still benefiting from the same distant reporting, when Sturgeon’s every cliched appeal to her base is recycled weekly with the threat that another referendum is round the corner. It isn’t.
The two writers who are best on this are Gerald Warner, and Cochrane, who both now feature on the newish website of another fine analyst, Iain Martin, called Reaction. Martin is a Scot living in London, who is thankfully far more robust in his opinions and insights than most of the expat hacks. Don’t get me wrong – there a quite a few left in Scotland, like Euan McColm and Stephen Daisley, but not enough. The Nats don’t appreciate their work.
…the only people I hear even considering another referendum are either SNP stalwarts or journalists desperate for a story.
Ms Sturgeon has to keep the referendum threat on the boil to keep the daftest of her supporters on side, even if sober-sided realists in the Nat ranks – such as former leader Gordon Wilson, one-time deputy leader Jim Sillars and ex Scottish Cabinet member Alex Neill – have extremely grave doubts about the prospects of another independence vote.
To keep the zealots happy and feed the fears of all in London – whether London Scotties or Tory ministers – she’s been forced to make roughly the same speech, albeit with her fingers and toes firmly crossed, every couple of weeks, warning that independence is still very much on the cards because of Brexit….. It is a fact that the prospect of another independence referendum will keep rearing its ugly head as we enter the conference season, with the issue certain to dominate the Nats Glasgow event in October. But it is extremely doubtful if circumstances – especially on the economy where an independent Scotland would face a £15 billion black hole – will change much.
As a result my advice to my Anglo-Scot colleagues is simple one: Stay by your phones, lads, I shall tell you when to panic.
Perfect. Despite such sense, it can be hard to discern this stuff. Two of the doughtiest campaigners that I know, both against a Yes vote in the 2014 referendum – one a journalist, one a politician – were deeply concerned that their resounding victory was just a pause in the fight. I don’t think so. Here’s Warner on a similar theme:
A second independence referendum would be meaningless since only Westminster can authorise a binding plebiscite. All Sturgeon’s referendum would amount to – if she were ever rash enough to waste Scottish taxpayers’ money on holding it – is a glorified opinion poll, with no constitutional significance whatsoever. Even in those circumstances Sturgeon would be insane to risk it, since current opinion polls show Brexit has had no effect on voters’ opinions on the Union and the SNP could expect to be thrashed again, burying the separatist issue at least for a generation.
Unfortunately Sturgeon’s announcement came just 24 hours before the publication of this year’s GERS (Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland) figures; it may even have been a cackhanded attempt to distract attention from them. The latest statistics represented the SNP’s worst nightmare.
The GERS figures showed Scotland’s deficit now stands at a crippling £14.8 billion, or 9.5 per cent of GDP, compared with 4 per cent for the UK. Oil revenues have plunged from their peak by 97 per cent to a derisory £60m. If Nicola thinks these are favourable conditions in which to fight an independence referendum, good luck to her.
He’s actually being polite. He can be a lot more biting (and funny).
In fact, it has occurred to quite a few people, including myself, that despite the endless hype, the SNP’s trajectory is not at all good, not for their alleged dream. (I have a theory that the few wise heads don’t actually want independence. Far too much hassle and responsibility, if they can just get along enjoying the perks, the aggro, and a certain kind of low rent adulation from folk who don’t know any better). So I thought I’d do a quick recent timeline. It speaks for itself.
1. Scottish Independence Referendum 18th September 2014
…a relatively easy win for No, despite a wildly aggressive and triumphalist campaign by Nat maniacs: The “No” side won, with 2,001,926 (55.3%) voting against independence and 1,617,989 (44.7%) voting in favour.
Remember that we only had a referendum because Cameron rather nobly agreed to it after Salmond unexpectedly won an overall majority in the Scottish Parliament in 2011. In retrospect that was their high water mark and it generated colossal quantities of Salmond hubris and hot air. It doesn’t take much.
We had something of a lull then, despite almost constant drivel from excitable Nats about “Indyref2”, even though they’d just been decisively gubbed in Indyref1.
2.UK General election 7th May 2015
It may seem odd to include this, but even though the Nats sent 56 clones to Westminster, their hated enemy, the Conservatives won an overall majority and were clearly not interested in Indyref2, ever. In addition, although Salmond will always be a solipsistic thug, he had acquired certain street smarts over the years, which Sturgeon, despite the robotic Stalinistic acclaim, just doesn’t have, yet she’s their leader.
However, they seemed to be on an electoral roll, surely…?
3.Scottish Parliamentary election 5th May, 2016
Well, that didn’t last long. They may still be running ‘the show’ (not a big deal in reality) at Holyrood, but they lost their majority, back to being a somewhat feeble minority government, in a large part thanks to those evil Tories having a resurgence. That wasn’t in the script. This was Sturgeon’s first real electoral test. The brave face didn’t quite convince.
4.SNP love triangle 22nd May 2106
The man accurately described by Euan McColm as ‘charmless’, Stewart Hosie, quits as SNP Deputy Leader because of his shenanigans with a posh English lady. Actually Hosie’s former wife, also an SNP politician, is a good egg, so I mention this just to keep the narrative accurate. He became (more of) a laughing stock. Another SNP MP, dopey Angus McNeil, was the third point of the triangle
5.Brexit! 24th June 2016
Britain votes to quit the EU, in Scotland the SNP make a lot of the % margins. The actual numbers are less exciting: 1,661,191 Remain to 1,018,322 Leave. That’s a difference of only 642,869 people, which is 12% of the population and 16.5% of the Scottish electorate. Yes it’s a majority, but hardly a ringing endorsement.
Needless to say Sturgeon and the Nats immediately went berserk with silly claims along the lines that Scotland just loved the EU, that Holyrood could block the result (very embarrassing that one), and that Indyref2 was now inevitable, because, y’know, the Scots really love the EU bureaucracy, but the consternation caused by Brexit in certain Hyndland salons seems to have died down pretty quickly, really. The concept that the EU might not want an essentially bankrupt independent Scotland fomenting trouble in Catalonia and elsewhere into the bargain, never seemed to cross her mind. History will not be kind on this one.
In the real world that the rest of us inhabit, neither business nor the voters agreed with her and her Nat toadies, that Brexit mysteriously made independence more attractive. The SNP parallel universe is a mysterious place.
6.The Named Person scheme gets hammered by the Supreme Court, 28th July 2016
With the SNP, authoritarianism is a constant temptation, to which they normally succumb. I have commented previously on their Jacobin tendencies here, where they seem to have decided that the state supplants parents, by right. It’s already failed, very tragically. Don’t these sanctimonious idiots think anything through properly? Clearly not. The Nats are now having an “intense consultation”, the sort of things that grown up governments normally do before pulling the trigger.
7.The SNP lose a significant by-election, 12th August 2016
Well yes, and it wasn’t widely reported considering the detail. The SNP leader’s own father, Robin Sturgeon, stood for an SNP seat in the Irvine West by-election, and lost. To the dismal remnants of Scottish Labour, who became the party with the most seats as a consequence. I would say that tells us something interesting about the grass roots of Scottish politics. If he’d won, as they clearly anticipated, we’d never have heard the end of it.
8.The Scottish Government Expenditure and Revenue (GERS) figures are released 24th August 2016
Put simply, Scotland as an independent nation is bust. Totally. Happily the UK isn’t quite. The Scottish deficit (not total debt) is officially £14.8 billion. This is rather important, and is one reason why Salmond is truly the most lying liar of all lying politicians. He makes Hillary Clinton look like George Washington. It’s a long story, but the Zen Master of GERS interpretation is the mighty Kevin Hague, over at Chokkablog. The Nats hate him of course. Read his long running commentary, it’s better than most professional journalists have managed.
9.The UK government politely tells the SNP they’re not needed in the Brexit plan, 2nd September 2016
This didn’t go down well. Having ranted about the iniquities of Brexit, Sturgeon appoints a Brexit minister, the ludicrous Mike Russell. He has no apparent role. The SNP are sad. Eager to get in on a process from which they are correctly excluded, they form an SNP Westminster committee to emulate Russell’s ignominy.
10.The SNP’s raison d’etre is independence, so when they announce their programme as the Scottish Government on 6th September, 2016….
Happily, some things are still within the party’s gift. So after the thrilling announcement in June that ‘the Summer of independence starts here’, Ms Sturgeon unveils her legislative programme for the forthcoming Holyrood term. What are the plans for Indyref2 that the foaming hordes have been eagerly anticipating, nay, promised, by their Nat overlords? Er…..nothing actually, just a weak-kneed ‘draft’. As Iain Martin aptly puts it: “Consulting on a draft is the government equivalent of a cash-strapped would-be tourist ordering a bunch of glossy holiday brochures and saying “we might go for St Tropez this year.””
I can’t be bothered to spell out the incompetence in administrative duties and basic educational and NHS needs, the grim faced North Korean approach to party management and independent thought, the humourless obsession with social media points scoring etc etc. None of it is hard to find on the internet, as they haven’t got round to censoring it. Yet. Chuck in the as yet only rumoured other ‘situations’ in the party, and one doubts that this cavalcade of incompetence, scandal and chippiness will go away soon.
So, from a glorious independence rolling in oil money to obsessing over the occasional tiger that finds its way north of the border, in just under two years, with support evidently and inexorably draining away.
It’s a joyous, deserved slow motion car crash. Well done everyone.