Leaders: Alternative currency plan needed

Alex Salmond may have some validity to his claim that the pound sterling is an asset shared among all the peoples of Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Picture: Getty
Picture: Getty

It is the kind of common sense-sounding type of approach that may seem right to many of the people he hopes will vote Yes.

But there is a hard fact here. It takes two sides to accept that to reach the bilateral agreement he is seeking and if the other side sincerely believes that it would be against its interest to concur because the potential minuses of a currency union outweigh the potential benefits, then there will not be a currency union.

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The articles of the Edinburgh Agreement that Mr Salmond cites in support of his case do not matter. The deal he struck with David Cameron was simply to legitimise the holding of the referendum; it did not say that everything the Scottish Government sets out in its independence manifesto has to be accepted by the UK Government.

Mr Salmond’s argument that this is simply a campaigning tactic by politicians who want him to fail and that they will turn around and cheerfully negotiate a currency union the day after a Yes vote looks implausible. What would change should that day come is that those politicians’ reasons to look after Scottish interests would disappear because they would be shortly facing an English and Welsh electorate anxious to know how they would be looking after their interests.

Given that those voters have no conceivable reason to want to burden themselves with any liabilities that might arise in the future from Scottish banks, or an imprudent Scottish government, if their politicians were to agree to a currency union, it is entirely reasonable they would demand its rejection, even if there is a cost in terms of lost trade.

If Mr Salmond wants to keep hopes of a currency union alive, then he needs to be able to offer an iron-clad proposal that will extinguish all possibility of taxpayers south of the Border being asked to pay for a Scottish bail-out. So far, what he has set out does not do that.

To threaten that in retaliation, Scotland will not take on any share of the UK debt built up while Scotland was a member of the Union is vacuous. Financial markets care little for debating points that this would not be a technical default, they would see a country failing to honour debts for which it has benefited – preventing an almighty bank bust, and building new infrastructure – and penalise Scotland accordingly, which would mean increased costs for borrowing for everybody.

Perhaps Mr Salmond may have other cards to play when it comes to the talks, maybe even some very strong ones, such as offering an extended lease on Faslane, which might secure a currency concession. But regardless, Scotland needs to know what would happen if a currency union cannot be negotiated, because right now, it looks far from a certainty.

World must act on North Korean evils

Even though it was well known that North Korea is controlled by a hideous regime, the report by the United Nations still takes the breath away. From the detail of the atrocities inflicted on individuals – a woman forced to drown her baby, and children imprisoned and starved from birth – to the mass inhumanity – widespread use of torture and deliberate use of starvation – the catalogue of gross and violent abuse is horrific.

The staggering thing is that 25 million people are so ignorant of how evil are the conditions they endure even in comparison to mildly despotic regimes elsewhere that they have not risen in revolution. But that only testifies to the further monstrosity of a regime capable of controlling information and thought to an extent that George Orwell never imagined possible.

Michael Kirby, who chaired the UN inquiry, compared North Korea to Nazi Germany and said that after war defeated that regime, many people had anguished that they did not know of the Holocaust being visited on Jews, Communists, Gypsies and the others that Hitler despised. Now, he says, the world does know about the vileness of Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s self-styled Supreme Leader, and the world does not have excuses. The world must act, he says.

War, even if North Korea did not possess nuclear weapons, is surely unthinkable. The additional suffering it would inflict is too dreadful to contemplate. The sickening grossness now revealed by the UN makes it instinctive to look for a quick fix, but there is no such quick fix. Diplomatic work accompanied by non- military actions aimed at getting the regime to ease its oppression is the only way forward.