Happy New Year 2014

2014

Happy New Year Folks!

Well the New Year has arrived perhaps for some, bright expectations for the future and the start of a new life while for others, the new year may just be a mundane continuation of the previous 12 months. Certainly life is what the individual makes of it but even the most optimistic outlooks can be severely tempered by economic crisis.

It’s likely the main items to dominate the headlines in the forthcoming year will be;

Immigration

• Scotland’s Independence Referendum

European Election

Anniversary of the start of World War One

Pay and Pensions

Immigration

This time last year I wrote that immigration was likely to develop into something of a furore mainly due to the ending of temporary right to free movement controls imposed on a number of newer EU member states. How right that forecast proved to be. The original slow awareness of a potential problem rapidly gathered pace like ever-growing snowball rolling downhill until it resulted in the Government taking 11th hour measures in desperation to avoid any potential surge in benefit and health tourism. The qualifying time for claiming benefits has now been raised to three months UK residence and a requirement for non-UK residents to pay for health treatment.

Whether or not these measures have any effect or whether the UK will see a huge immigration influx only the forthcoming months will tell. Clearly some will always use these fears to play the racism card, something I personally will have no truck with. There are however those who have in the past sought to unjustly label anyone who raised serious questions about the effects of mass immigration as having racist tendencies. No government or local authority can ignore the effects  a sudden influx of people would have on housing supply, education, health services and social infrastructure. People coming from countries with traditionally low rates of pay cannot be blamed for wanting to enhance their families status. It does seem however that some employers have also used this new pool of lower wage expectation manpower to keep earnings artificially depressed. I cannot help but think that is something of a short-sighted view and something of economic madness. In the longer term, companies can only prosper if people buy their goods or services something which a low wage base population struggling to make ends meet are unlikely to do. Even the head of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has recognised this by stating that some employers are keeping far too many people stuck in minimum-wage jobs.

Scotland’s Independence Referendum

On the 18th September the people of Scotland will hold a referendum to vote on whether Scotland should become an independent country, breaking it’s ties with the United Kingdom. I have a feeling in the months running up to the referendum this is likely to turn into a most acrimonious debate with claim and counter-claim as to the benefits or lack of them that Scotland will face if it does become independent.At the moment I like many others am unclear as to who will be entitled to vote. While I accept the principle it is for the Scottish people to decide their future the question still remains at the moment who these people will be. Will it be all residents in Scotland or just those of Scottish descent. If it is the latter it begs the question of degrees of Scottishness as many people claim to have an element of Scottish blood running through their veins. Would one have to be both born in Scotland and be of Scottish decent to vote or would people of Scottish descent around the world be equally entitled? There are many people whose Scottish ancestors moved to England where they were born but who have subsequently moved back to Scotland. How does one prove they are Scottish? It’s not as daft a question as it may at first appear. The age for eligibility to vote has been lowered to 16, something that many adults in any election worldwide might question the wisdom of.

I personally am not in favour of Scottish independence not because I am English and might be considered biased but because I believe breaking the union apart will not serve any good purpose for either side. There are those who will say Scotland’s economy is booming and will continue to flourish. I take a more dispassionate look can only effectively see tourism and dwindling returns from North Sea oil. If future economic circumstances should dictate that oil companies suspend oil production, then Scotland would be plunged into an immediate economic crisis. It’s no use people saying such things can not happen as in a global economy with multi-national companies anything is possible.

Scotland like England certainly has the remnants of a once thriving shipbuilding industry. However like England the Scottish shipbuilding industry is in serious decline faced with almost unmatchable competition from foreign shipyards that can build ships in a faster turnaround time with the consequent cost savings.Again some would debatably argue that the faster built ships are not of the same quality as Scottish built ships. It is an argument that cuts no ice with the shipping companies as they look not only at potential cargoes but financial ledgers as well. The period during which a ship is built is also a dead-money time for shipping companies. It’s only when a ship is on the sea carrying cargo that it earns money and certainly not during the extended period while a ship of perhaps better quality is built. Unless a new Scottish Government were prepared or had the finances to pour money into shipyard modernisation along with the changes in working conditions then I can see no future shipbuilding industry, (and any consequent economic benefit it would bring), at all.

There are those in the current Scottish Assembly that say if they win independence they would remain part of the EU and they would not institute border controls. I do find that all rather fanciful and wishful thinking. The Spanish Prime Minister for one disagrees with that point of view and I dare say there are others that think the same. It is also unlikely that the English Parliament could tolerate a position where Scotland become an open gateway for migrants who who simply pass-through Scotland on their way to England. Although no one in Government has yet had the nerve to say so, it’s patently obvious that England would have to institute border controls at the Scottish border from day one. This immediately raises the prospect of Scottish people in England or vice-versa becoming aliens in a foreign country overnight, a real prospect anyone should shudder at.

I tend to think the Scottish people are far more wiser and canny to see through anyone essentially raising very little other than a patriotic flag waving argument.

European Elections

Elections for the European Parliament are due to take place in April and they are likely to throw all the mainstream political parties into something of a turmoil. There is a very strong anti-European feeling running through the UK at the moment and only the proposed European Referendum in 2015, if it ever happens, will be able to determine whether pro or anti-Europeans are in the majority. Although a European referendum is now contained within an Act of Parliament that does not mean it is written in tablets of stone and will take place. A lot will depend on the outcome of a General Election and which party or the strengths of any future coalition government eventually takes control. The Liberal Party would scrap any such referendum immediately in the very unlikely event they won the election. Labour are somewhat silent on the issue and one can guess why. Saying they will also scrap the referendum is a guaranteed vote loser.

That only leaves the forthcoming European Election where the electorate can have their say. What is different in this election is the hitherto comparatively unknown United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) have suddenly started making major inroads in local elections leaving the main political parties fearful they may do the same in the European Elections. The would leave the Government with it’s European input seriously weakened at the Council of Ministers with possibly diametrically opposed views to it’s representatives in the European Parliament..If this were to happen then the path run up to the General Election is likely to be littered with all sorts of disingenuous future promises.

The only vote the British people have had on Europe was a referendum in 1975 to join the then EEC (European Economic Community), a trading community and nothing else. No mention was ever made of political union or the loss of sovereignty and all that entails.Everything that has developed since then has been without the consensus of the British people by smoke and mirrors arguments from those fearful of loosing a vote on the subject. Future historians will probably look back on this period and ridicule the politicians involved.

Anniversary of the start of World War One

The 28th July will see the hundredth anniversary of the start of World War One. It was on this date in 1914 that Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sophie were assassinated in Sarajevo during a visit to what was then the capital of the Austro-Hungarian province of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Archduke was the heir to the throne of Austria and Hungary.

The assassination led to a chain of events where Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia and other nations subsequently mobilised to either support or defend one another. The rest as they say is history. Four years of bloody battle and a estimated 14 million deaths ensued. Ways of life and social structures also fell victim to the carnage and the world was never the same again in the aftermath.

One hundred years may seem like a long time to many, very few of us were alive then but the impact ran deep like a scythe cutting through society and for some, the wounds are still felt today.

For the average soldier, irrelevant of what nation they fought for, they simply did as they were ordered, orders that originated from their generals which in turn led back to a handful of politicians. For many it originally was a form of escapism from their humdrum lives with a chance of foreign travel they were unlikely to achieve otherwise. Everyone though the whole thing would be a short bloody skirmish after which everyone would go home again. Tragically these thoughts were quickly dispelled as reality set in and many were destined never to return home again. Entire towns and villages lost their menfolk as well as ladies losing their sweethearts, wives loosing their husbands and children loosing their fathers.

It is important to remember the ultimate sacrifice so many made and also to learn the lessons from it. Failure to learn those lessons of World War One sowed the seeds of the even greater greater holocaust of World War Two.

Pay and Pensions

Pay I have already covered under immigration as both tend to be inter-linked. Problems with pensions however have been quietly lurking beneath the surface for some time and I think are likely to erupt at some time during the year.

To many pensions have always been and probably will remain something of a taboo subject. Something that is not readily understood and brushed aside with a “Best left to others” to sort out attitude. Younger generations however are becoming more aware and astute that their forefathers as to how pensions work and will no longer accept their parents something to be brushed under the carpet outlook. People are now living longer and young people of today must now worked until they are 70 to get a state pension. It is likely the goal posts of age will be moved even further before they achieve that. At the same time traditional company pension schemes are closing with the forecast they will completely disappear within the next decade.

The money so diligently saved over the years for a pension goes into what in known as an individuals pension pot. When they eventually retire this sum of money is used to buy an annuity which is a fixed contract guaranteeing the individual a set income for the rest of their life. This may seem all well and good but it has emerged the companies that deal in annuities charge differing administration fees and also offer differing rates for the lifetime return they give in return for the money in an individuals pension pot. This could mean that twin brothers working in the same occupation and retiring on the same day could receive a pension differing by several thousand pounds a year if their pension pots are invested with different annuity companies. Administration fees are akin to someone putting their hands in your pocket to take some of your money to look after it. This is fine to a degree but it a company takes more money out of your pocket than another company for doing the same thing, then less money is going into your pension pot. Some companies also charge high transfer fees when you retire should you decide that company A offers a better annuity rate than company B.

This may all be perfectly legal but I think it can only be a matter of time before governments are forced by increasingly aware pension savers to pass legislation ending this disparity.

The other pension and to which many are solely reliant is the State Pension Scheme. Again it will not be too long before people increasing start asking if I now have to work until I am 70 plus years old, what happens to my contributions if I die before then? It does seem they lose them and the state pension will in part be financed by those who never live long enough to collect them.

A recent survey of pensions internationally claimed that UK pensioners received the worst pensions in Europe and the possibility does exist of the UK becoming a nation of pauper pensioners, something that will do both them and the UK economy no good.. One thing is clear, as more people become pension literate, fewer of them will be prepared to accept the poor state of affairs with either private or state pensions and with pensioners surviving longer, all political parties are starting to fear the power of the grey vote.


I have but touched on five subjects likely to arouse controversy in the forthcoming year. There are likely to be many others but I think these will have higher prominence.

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