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How the Scot ‘no’ changed Europe and the UK

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Scotland_20140918_IndependentWith results from the 32 councils declared, the ‘no’ voters of Scotland carried referendum day and opted to stay in the union, that is, the United Kingdom. The margin – 55% ‘no’ to 45% ‘yes’ – still means that every other Scot wants independence of some sort from the UK and its London-centric Westminster government.

There are some immediate reliefs for London’s politicos who were besides themselves with worry until early today morning. The Union survives (but not in the same shape). Still, this means that the UK remains a G7 economic power and a member of the UN Security Council. It also means Scotland will get more devolution and David Cameron will not be forced out (which may be a disappointment to many more English people than the number of those who voted ‘yes’).

Those reliefs will not provide cheers until after this weekend. Monday morning, the United Kingdom will have to look back at the last few weeks of referendum mania, and the last few adrenalin and hope-filled days, and realise that the 307-year-old union must change course radically to stay in any shape at all (and even that will be on borrowed time). Here is why:

Scotland_20140918_TelegraphFirst, there has indeed been a victory for Scotland, for those who considered themselves patriots for voting ‘yes’ and for voting ‘no’. The victory is more devolution for Scotland. Scottish Nationalist Party leader Alex Salmond (who is also the governor of Scotland) is the one who initiated the referendum campaign and who had wanted three options on the ballot papers: independence; the status quo; or more devolution for Scotland.

Until mid-year, the British government led by prime minister David Cameron accepted only the independence question, for more powers to the regional government in Edinburgh was rejected outright, and at the time they thought so, polls were showing a comfortable majority against ‘yes’ – as high as 65% in 2013. That advantage dropped steadily, with a shock poll in early September 2014 putting the ‘yes’ camp for the first time in the lead. This is when Cameron and the leaders of the two other main parties in Westminster – Labour and the Liberal-Democrats – signed a pledge to give more powers to Scotland if its voters chose ‘no’. Cameron and the other leaders – Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg and the Labour party’s leader Ed Miliband – will now have to deliver on those promises and also face claims from the other regions – Wales, England and Northern Ireland – for more money and powers.

Scotland_20140918_HeraldSecond, the ‘yes’ camp had painstakingly put together the arguments its campaign needed to show that Scotland could be successful as an independent country. These arguments appealed to many and convinced a good number – just over 44% as it has turned out – to take the leap of faith and thereby stare down the ‘no’ placards which read, “It’s not worth the risk”. Where the SNP fell short was in convincing more Scots about the risks and how to hedge them. But even in falling short, the ‘yes’ camp has proved to UK (and to all those regions in Europe seeking self-determination) that to seek independence is a powerful and uplifting tonic, which is a substance in very short supply all over the continent.

In the end – for so the commentators and observers mutter – it is the respectable middle class in sober dress who have tended to vote ‘no’, and so have the Labour stalwarts of all ages for whom some idea of ‘solidarity’ is apparently more comforting and familiar than the gritty new business of making independence work and dealing with the more obvious contradictions of the Salmond plan. Scottish monetary union with the UK also meant an independent Scotland using the pound as its single currency, but having no control over it.

Scotland_20140918_GuardianThe Euro crisis taught Europeans that a monetary union without a political one is a debilitating project, and so the risks shrewdly exploited by the ‘no’ camp (and the banks and the petroleum industry, let’s not forget them) came to weigh more than placards. Even so, Scottish independence as an idea based upon an implicit assumption of Scottish national and ethnic uniqueness – incompatible with the British identity, as any gent in a kilt would swear – has been considerably strengthened, at the cost of the Westminster style of government, whose days are from today numbered.

Third, the nature of this long demise. Early on Saturday morning political scientists were already saying that for British politics, much thought now needs to be given to constitutional arrangements, that constitutional change will have to be delivered. Such work will have to begin on Monday morning to make a start towards reconciling all the interests – Scots, English, Welsh, Northern Irish and local (however local chooses to define itself in the UK). It is not the kind of “epochal opportunity” that the SNP was waving overhead as a flag until yesterday, but it is for similar movements all over Europe, and the project in UK will be watched very carefully indeed in those countries and territories.

Scotland_20140918_TimesSalmond and the SNP will still govern Scotland until 2016 and the party will need to decide whether to run in 2016 on a stronger pledge for full independence (a two-stage referendum was amongst the eminently sensible suggestion made earlier this year). The question of equality will be raised more pertinently than before – in the Linlithgow Palace, Scotland’s James V built an elaborate fountain to express his equal status with his English uncle, Henry VIII, and amongst the ruins the fountain survives as a vivid reminder of Scottish pride. As for the economics of independence, it was Salmond who told the BBC: “The central mistake that the ‘no’ campaign has made is to tell the people of Scotland that the land of Adam Smith is not capable of running its own matters financially.”

The Scottish ‘no’ therefore is but a punctuation mark in a strong statement of cultural identity that began to be written well over half a millennium ago. A more thoughtful UK may result, one whose political performers learn to understand the union they claim to love. If so, the Scots have indeed won.

[The Khaleej Times published my article here.]

Why the global consultants want to see more Asian megacities

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The urbanisation-mongers say that more than 20 of the world’s top 50 cities ranked by GDP will be located in Asia by the year 2025, up from 8 in 2007.

The mantra of urbanisation has been at the forefront of the exploitative and socially destructive economics of the last 20 years.

In recent years it has been chanted loudest by the global consulting firms – the same ones which audit the books of the banks that collapse, taking small savers’ money with them, and the books of the Wall Street firms, which destroy jobs and abet the plunder of resources the world over.

Why are they saying this? Let’s look at what one of these firms, McKinsey, has been saying about urbanisation (this firm has concentrated heavily on pushing urban finance, and is lobbying hard with Asian governments to do as it recommends).

“Asia’s growing economic power manifests itself in many ways,” McKinsey has said. “Back in 2007, for example, only 8 of the top 50 urban areas (by GDP) were located there. Half of global GDP came from the developed world’s top 380 cities, with 20-plus percent from just 190 North American ones.”

The urbanisation-mongers say that in this new landscape of urban economic power, Shanghai and Beijing will outrank Los Angeles and London, while Mumbai and Doha will surpass Munich and Denver.

Over the next 15 years, McKinsey has said, the urban centre of gravity will move south and east. In the geography of globalisation, South means South Asia and India, East means China.

By 2025, this forecast posits that Asia will have upward of 20 of the top 50 cities, and Shanghai and Beijing will have GDPs higher than those of Los Angeles and London, according to this city-obsessed firm.

Why are they saying this? Pushing urbanisation means getting into one administrative unit more workers and more consumers at once. It means markets for goods and services (think finance, insurance, health, education) that are easier to reach and easier to shoehorn into uniform regulations.

The urbanisation-mongers say that the implications for companies’ growth priorities, countries’ economic relationships, and the world’s sustainability strategy are profound. They're right, and we must beware.

It also means creating nuclei for rural migrants, who will be gradually but inexorably pushed out of their villages as the costs and burdens of smallholder farming become more unbearable, and as the levels of rural food and fuel inflation become more unendurable.

The success of the urbanisation that McKinsey and its peers and the collaborators in government want depends on the steady depopulating of the rural districts of our countries, the abandoning of land that will then be taken over by corporate and industrial agriculture which will then supply crop monocultures to the food processing industries and retail systems designed to feed the miserable millions in crammed, unlivable cities.

Written by makanaka

October 5, 2011 at 22:24

Tottenham and beyond, when the disadvantaged got angry

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A firefighter sprays water on the furniture store set on fire by rioters last night in Croydon, south London, Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2011.A wave of violence and looting raged across London and spread to three other major British cities Tuesday, as authorities struggled to contain the country's worst unrest since race riots set the capital ablaze in the 1980s. Photo: Sang Tan

Some very straight talk from the country of straight talkers, superior essayists and lambent poetry. The Irish Left Review explains what the supine and corporatists British mainline media will not, that the Tottenham riots is, in large measure, the angry reaction of those from whom much has been taken away, year after year, by the state and its industrial-financial sponsors, in the name of neo-liberal ‘reform’. Here are a few paras from a bristling, sobering commentary:

“So capitalism is looting the public sphere. Services that citizens have for a hundred or more years considered to be public goods and not to be exploited for the profit of a few – health care, care of the elderly, education, unemployment benefit, old-age pensions, fresh water, sewers, waste disposal, roads and footpaths, urban and rural planning, the postal service, the telephone service, the police, and so on –  are subject to systematic and sustained pressure aimed at breaking the link between the citizen and the service. No longer should we think of these things as ‘ours’, except in the sense that we can say a bank is ours. These things are provided to us as goods and services by companies which exercise their right to make a profit out of them – out of us really, out of our pain, our parent’s old age, our children’s childhood, our money troubles, our environment. Citizens are to be redefined as consumers of services. The sole function of the state is to regulate the activities of companies so that monopolies do not develop.”

British police officers arrest a man as rioters gathered in Croydon, south London, Monday, Aug. 8, 2011. Violence and looting spread across some of London's most impoverished neighborhoods on Monday, with youths setting fire to shops and vehicles, during a third day of rioting in the city that will host next summer's Olympic Games. Photo: Sang Tan

“The police function as the guarantor of profit. The police are ‘ours’ only in the way the taxman is ours. The police thus find themselves increasingly (for it was ever thus) with their backs to the corporate wall facing a disinherited citizenry for whom the state is a hostile force. This makes the police political for it is a mistake to think that the looting of the public sphere by corporations and individuals is not political. Of course, nobody on the corporation side wants to call it that. They want it to be understood as common sense. The state is ‘broken’, they say, or it has ‘failed’. Only profit-making companies can do the job efficiently and give good value for money to the consumer. What they really mean is ‘We’re going to take the money and run’. When you’re down and out, feeling low, check your credit rating.”

“All the talk from Cameron and his cohorts is of crime and punishment and ‘the full force of the law‘ – as if these young people did not encounter the full force of the law on a daily basis. We are told variously that there is no political context, no political motive, no political enemy – it is ‘criminality pure and simple‘. This is because violence against the police (and therefore the state) is not considered in itself to be political. It is because the envy of, the desire for and the acquisition of luxury goods such as plasma TVs and jewellery is not considered political. The political class and the commentariat cannot conceive of themselves as enemies of the people who live in areas like Tottenham where Tory cuts are closing youth centres, which suffer massive unemployment even while the City is booming, and which are the objects of legislation designed to disadvantage them even further.”

Written by makanaka

August 13, 2011 at 15:21

Early price indicator for 2011 foodgrain

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Agrimoney has reported that London wheat for January delivery hit £198.40 a tonne on Thursday, beating the previous record for a spot contract of £197.50 a tonne set in September 2007.

“The peak came despite an uncertain performance by Chicago wheat, the global benchmark, which dipped in and out of negative territory in thin pre-holiday trade, and after disappointing US weekly export sales data. However, in London, prices continued to be boosted by data showing a doubling in UK wheat shipments in 2010-11, at a time when domestic demand has been lifted too by fresh capacity at plants converting the grain into ethanol.”

The buying was reflected too in wheat prices in Paris, where the January contract touched a two-year high of E250.00 a tonne, a two-year high and a “big psychological level for many in the market”, according to a grains analyst Agrimoney spoke to.

The market was finding that, despite the rises in prices of more than 80% in Paris since June, and more than 90% in London, “demand for wheat, and in particular milling quality wheat, has simply not been rationed”. And fundamentals both inside and outside the European Union “seem to offer little hope for a half to further price increases.

On 20 December, Reuters had reported (this is via Futurespros) that Chicago wheat futures rose more than 1 percent on Monday, taking the monthly gains to around 18% as weather concerns in top exporters United States and Australia continued to underpin the market.

“Chicago Board of Trade March wheat rose 1.45% to $7.64 a bushel.  CBOT front-month wheat has risen nearly 18% so far in December, the biggest monthly gains since July when the grain market jumped more than 40% as a severe drought ravaged crops across the Black Sea region. CBOT wheat is on track to post its first annual gain in three years after dropping 42% in the past two years, helped by a drought which decimated the Russian crop and halted exports and rains which reduced the quality of Australian wheat.”

Written by makanaka

December 24, 2010 at 11:19