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More tough choices

Next week Scotland will vote whether to leave the UK and reverse the decision made in 1707 to become an independent nation again. The latest polls suggest that they might just do that, though the polls are still close and 18% remain undecided. Quebec faced a similar decision in 1995 to separate from Canada. Two weeks before their vote the polls were also close but on the day the ‘don’t knows’ swung the result against independence. So the only poll that matters is on 18th September.

There are three difficult issues that face the voters. What currency will an independent Scotland use? The Westminster parties say the pound is not an option because Scotland would have no control over monetary policy set by the Bank of England. This week the major banks have said they will relocate to England if Scotland votes ‘Yes’. EU and NATO membership are other problem issues. So too are immigration policy and border controls.

The UK parties have said that if Scotland votes ‘NO’ there would be increased devolution of taxation and welfare policies. This has been dismissed as a bribe but the changes were proposed six months ago before the referendum campaign started. The outcome will affect us all. Scots have made important and valued contributions to every area of British life. Harriet Harman spoke for the vast majority of MPs when she said she wanted Scotland to remain family, not become foreigners.

On a completely different issue, British politicians are grappling with a curious paradox. The economy is recovering well from the recession. Growth is accelerating, unemployment has fallen with record numbers in work and inflation is under control. Optimism is rising and 43% of the public say the economic climate is good compared with 15% in 2013. This is in stark contrast with most other nations, including America where the mood is gloomy.

The Conservatives are credited with achieving this and rated as the better than the other parties at economic management. The mystery is that they still trail in opinion polls behind Labour who bear the blame for leaving the massive debt which now has to be paid off. So, is Bill Clinton’s jibe, “It’s the economy, stupid” not as true as conventional wisdom suggests?         

One explanation why some people still don’t feel better off is that the TUC says average earnings are still 13.8% below the 2007 level. That will be compounded when interest rates begin to rise next spring. The challenge to the parties as they draft their election manifestos is how to enable the poorest to benefit from the recovery without rebuilding the debt mountain.

We should pray for wise decisions and straight talking on these issues. It is impossible in a democracy not to be involved in politics. It is the way in which who governs us and the values by which we are governed are decided. Opting out leaves those decisions to others so the least we can do is to pray that God’s will be done. 

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