Leaders: The politics of economic recovery

FOR some months now, the ordinary British citizen sitting watching the television news might have been forgiven for experiencing a degree of ­puzzlement at some of headlines.

Britain is emerging from recession. The trouble is, it does not feel like that for most people. Picture: PA
Britain is emerging from recession. The trouble is, it does not feel like that for most people. Picture: PA

Again and again, after the release of some economic data, the message from economic experts has been clear: Britain is slowly beginning to emerge from its long ­recession. The trouble is, it does not feel like that for most people.

Yesterday’s news on inflation is a sign that this may be about to change.

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The latest numbers show the Consumer Price Index (CPI) dipped to 1.9 per cent in January from 2 per cent in December. A small fall, admittedly, but a significant one in that, for the first time in many years, wages in this country are forecast to rise faster than the cost of living.

It may not yet be time to hang out the bunting and break into a chorus of Happy Days Are Here Again, but analysts predict a ­further fall in inflation in the coming months.

This significantly changes the dynamic of the economic choices faced by people in this country. Consumer confidence is by necessity a fragile thing when household outgoings are inevitably running ahead of the amount of wages coming in. But when wages can begin to cover the necessary and still have a little left over, it is far easier to nurture.

Of course, the shadow of the grim few years most Britons have endured is not easily dispelled. In that time, many people’s wages have been frozen, so their relative buying power now lags behind where they were before the ­economic crisis.

The prosperity many people felt in the middle of the last decade may yet take some considerable time to regain.

Let us, however, be thankful for small mercies.

The political impact of this inflation news – especially if it is the start of similar good news over the coming months – could be a significant factor in the independence referendum campaign. But exactly how remains to be seen.

Will the first glimmer of a return to prosperity make Scots feel that the United Kingdom is delivering on their behalf after all? Or will it ease their economic anxieties to the extent that they are more confident about taking a leap into the unknown of a new Scottish state?

There is a potential UK political consequence too, with similar considerations making their mark on the Westminster general election next year. Will the voters conclude that George Osborne’s tough approach to economic matters has succeeded in dragging Britain out of the worst of the recession? Or will they punish him for the brutal austerity measures he deemed necessary to get us to this point, and which he considers a success?

To answer these questions perhaps needs a sociologist rather than a psephologist. But make no mistake, how the voters react to this good news could be politically potent.

Open to interrogation

THE saga over who was criminally responsible for the Lockerbie bombing has been trawled over for decades and will run and run. Much less thoroughly explored have been the allegations of criminality in the course of the police and Crown Office inquiry into the atrocity.

Those who believe the police investigation and subsequent trial amounted to a miscarriage of justice are strongly of the opinion that a new police inquiry is required to get to the bottom of alleged wrongdoing.

But they, and some MSPs sympathetic to their views, detect a lack of enthusiasm – to say the very least – on the part of senior Police Scotland officers to pick this up and run with it.

Police Scotland is not yet a year old, but already there are question marks about just how effectively it is being held to account, both at national level by the police authority and at a more local level through liaison with local authorities. A common criticism is that the lines of accountability are at best opaque.

There can be nothing clearer, however, than a direct request for action to the chief constable Sir Stephen House from the Scottish Parliament’s justice committee.

Such a letter – demanding to know how many officers have been allocated to this inquiry, and other information – is currently being prepared and will be on Sir Stephen’s desk shortly, and MSPs will expect an answer within ten days.

The chief constable would be wise to make its consideration a priority. There should be no if’s and but’s here. The Holyrood parliament is the ultimate expression of the popular will in our democracy. Sir Stephen would do well to bear that in mind.