Bill Jamieson: Predictions for 2017? Rule nothing out

Look at the disruption of the past decade and realise just how bad we are at crystal ball gazing, writes Bill Jamieson

2016 saw the UK vote to Leave the European Union. (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)
2016 saw the UK vote to Leave the European Union. (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

Some changes to everyday life you just can’t believe, even under a powerful searchlight and magnifying glass.

Take yesterday. The first post of the New Year brought a letter for Mrs Jamieson from her bank – Santander. Headed “Important Information”, it contained an announcement of changes to the interest rate on her Instant Saver account. From 4 January the interest was being reduced from 0.10 per cent to 0.01 per cent.

You see what I mean about the magnifying glass. I did ask her to check the envelope in case one may have been enclosed. But her eyes did not deceive her.

Sometimes it does not matter how hard you look, you can't see what is going to happen.

This was money put aside years ago for emergencies (sic) and also to help build a little retirement nest egg.

So much for safe assumptions, for the world of yesteryear and for all its hopes. The interest rate quoted was gross of tax, so a contribution would in due course have to be made to the Happy Collection Tin Rattlers of the HMRC. Thus, for the Dowager Lady Jamieson to be able to retire now with a modicum of comfort on an annual income from her fixed interest savings account would require a capital sum comfortably in excess of £300 million. (I have not yet had the courage to appraise her of this figure. I fear the look of expectation even the most liberated women are wont to give their partners: “Pedal Harder.”)

I recite this incident not simply as a comment on how surreal the world of finance has become, but also how dramatically the world about us has changed – and by a magnitude far greater than we could ever have imagined just ten years ago.

And when we step back to look at this broader sweep, how myopic, how utterly puny do our predictions for the period ahead come to look. What does it matter in the greater scale of things, that our economy might grow by 1.2 per cent or 1.4 per cent, or an EU ambassador resigns in a huff: how do today’s New Year predictions compare with these dramatic changes? They may have been slow at the time to unfold but they have left our lives and the landscape in which we live them utterly transformed from what we could possibly have planned for or even imagined.

Sometimes it does not matter how hard you look, you can't see what is going to happen.

The year 2016 has been described as a singular volcanic “one-off” that brought disruption to our political and economic order. But it’s not 2016 alone that should concern us as much as the disruption the past decade has brought – far beyond any scientific prediction or crystal ball guess.

Here’s some for starters:

•Tony Blair, three times election winner and ten years prime minister, was been consigned to infamy.

•Gordon Brown came in as prime minister – and has gone.

•David Cameron came in as prime minister – and has gone.

•A Consevative-Liberal Democrat coalition has come – and has gone.

•Donald Trump, a billionaire property developer and TV show host, is about to be president of the United States.

•Nigel Farage, the leader of a tiny, insignificant minority political party, is now a household name.

•The UK looked to be in the European Union for ever. Now it has voted to leave.

•Here in Scotland, the long hegemony of Scottish Labour has collapsed.

•Scotland’s two giant banks, the pride of Scottish finance, both required taxpayer aid and rescue.

•There was a Scottish independence referendum, with a result far closer than anyone imagined in 2007 when the SNP first became the biggest party at Holyrood.

•In the Westminster parliament there are now 56 SNP MPs.

•Alex Salmond has been first minister – and gone. Scotland now has a woman First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon.

•The Conservatives have become the official opposition in the Scottish Parliament

•The oil price collapsed.

•Household names in the high street such as Littlewoods, BhS and Woolworth have disappeared.

•Edinburgh would have its trams – but at a cost of more than £750 million.

Had anyone set these down as predictions in 2007 they would have been regarded as deranged and in need of heavy sedation.

But these events have all come to pass. They may have seemed to unfold slowly, and almost with a sense of inevitability at the time, but looking back we can see that it was not 2016 but an entire decade that has profoundly changed.

And who dares predict now what the decade ahead will bring?

Think of six impossible things before breakfast and double them might be the safest forecast. Here’s 12 for starters:

• Following a second financial crisis, billions of pounds of business and household debt had to be written off to avoid economic collapse. Inflation soared to reduce the crushing burden of government debt.

• There will be a new Centre Left Party – “Progressive Alliance” or some such – in power by 2027.

• The House of Lords as we know it will be abolished. There will be a second chamber on federal lines with length of tenure for members limited to ten years.

• Income tax as we know it will be abolished. Instead there will be a Smart Card Monthly Peoples Allowance, with rates and grades determined by age, gender, and record of civic contribution.

• Food and drink products will be tightly regulated to minimise sugar, salt and other health-threatening ingredients. Most Britons will be vegetarian.

• The EU as we know it will have given way to a new inter-governmental body confined to matters of trade and cross-border security. The euro will have been abandoned.

• The Trump presidency will be cut short by assassination.

• A horrific religious and ethnic war will re-write the political map of the Middle East, the Saudi regime will collapse and the region pulverised by conflict between Russia and the US.

• At home, Scotland will be independent but in a customs union with the rest of the UK following disturbances at border posts. A Centre Right coalition will be in power at Holyrood

• Public consumption of alcohol will be illegal. Pubs, off licences and supermarket aisles where alcohol is on sale will be screened from view.

• Dualling the A9 will still await completion.

The list, of course, is hardly complete. Readers, I am sure, will have more interesting suggestions as to what awaits us. But think bold: look back on the ten years since 2007 and one admonition stands out above all others: Rule Nothing Out. I have good reason to put the probability of safe assumptions about our future at a very low level – how about 0.01 per cent?