Leaders: Economy growing, too soon for bunting

Bank of England governor Mark Carney was upbeat in his assessment of the recovery. Picture: Getty
Bank of England governor Mark Carney was upbeat in his assessment of the recovery. Picture: Getty
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Finally there are encouraging signs that the light at the end of this long dark economic tunnel may not, after all, be the headlights of an oncoming train. And of course, a number of economic indices – on mortgage lending, business confidence and High Street sales, for example – are indeed suggesting we may emerge from the other side of the age of austerity.

And Bank of England governor Mark Carney is probably right in his upbeat assessment of the recovery being underway, and him talking it up with confidence won’t do it any harm. But it would be foolish to pin too much hope on indicators such as yesterday’s employment figures, which in truth paint a more complex picture.

According to the Office of National Statistics, an extra 16,000 people in Scotland moved into a job between July and September – but at the same time there was a rise of 1,000 in the number of people registered as unemployed.

This apparently contradictory picture is explained by an overall increase in the number of people in the job pool. Reasons for this growth remain unclear.

One possible explanation is that welfare reforms have been having the desired effect of moving people off benefits and into the jobs market.

Another is that tough times are forcing some groups – mothers with small children, for example – back into the hunt for employment. It is also clear that many of these newly-employed are in part-time work.

So while these numbers may be a source of some satisfaction, it might be wise to hold off on the bunting for a while longer.

And that is important to remember when it comes to the issue of interest rates. Mr Carney’s upbeat message included a “thawing” in the freeze on credit, and a broader mood of “lifting uncertainty” across the business community.

It has been a long time since we heard a Governor of the Bank of England sounding anything but funereal. So much so that Mr Carney’s optimism is somewhat alarming.

Admittedly, he talked yesterday about the “significant headwinds” in the economic outlook, citing as one example the lack of a satisfactory resolution to the eurozone crisis. But the general tone was resolutely upbeat’He himself and his new policy of forward guidance - letting markets know what is coming as much as possible - said that the threshold for thinking about intereest rate rises was getting unemployment down to 7 per cent. Now it appears that may not be in 2016 as he first thought, but might be by the end of next year, He was right to counter speculation by saying it did not mean an automatic triggering of interest rates when his milestone was reached. Good. What we require of Mr Carney is a safety-first approach that ensures the interests of the UK as a whole are taken into account before a change of direction and many people see another presssure on their cost of living.

Fight even mighty Margo can’t win

Margo MacDonald is one of the treasures of Scottish politics. Even people who disagree with her on almost every issue, be it social, economic or constitutional, have been known to vote for her come election time. They simply like the fact that someone like Margo – tough, principled, passionate and down-to-earth – is one of our legislators.

Tenacity and a refusal to give in are typical Margo traits. But she may have reached a moment with one of her projects when the time has finally come to admit defeat and move on.

Today in Holyrood, the Lothian MSP will launch her latest attempt to enshrine in legislation the right of people who are critically ill to take their own life.

Ms MacDonald’s previous attempt to bring about this sea change in how we regard the terminally ill was defeated by a combination of concerted opposition and clever use of parliamentary procedure.

She now believes her strategy is more robust, her arguments stronger and her prospects for success much greater. Her bill is signed by 19 MSPs, covering every party in the Scottish Parliament. The Scottish Government has said all ministers will be permitted a free vote on the issue.

But still the odds are stacked against her, and success looks unlikely. There must surely come a point when Ms MacDonald accepts that the political will is not there in sufficient force for her to achieve her goal.

Given the formidable forces lined up against her and the seemingly implacable views of MSPs, her cause seems hopeless. Margo has fought this fight well. She could – and should – walk away from it now with her head held high.