Jim Sillars: Rainy outlook on Darling forecasts

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I like Alistair Darling personally, but when it comes to economic forecasting he is a dunce. His claim last week that a Yes vote in the referendum would be worse than the recession for Edinburgh has to be viewed against the background of his record as a forecaster when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer – a man who ignored the obvious, and got it all wrong.

In his 2008 budget speech, Alistair told the House of Commons: “I am able to report that the British economy will continue to grow through this year and beyond . . . with growth rising . . . to 2.5 to three per cent in 2010.” He went on to claim that government borrowing would fall and, wait for it, that “despite seeing the worst period of financial disruption for a generation, we have maintained confidence and stability in the banking system.” Britain was about to go bust.

Now, let me open myself to the accusation of a George Galloway trait – lack of modesty. Whereas Alistair Darling had the UK Treasury at his disposal in 2008, I had been a pensioner for six years and only had my reading ability, research capability through the web, an economist friend who lives in Hong Kong, and common sense to guide me. I had taken note of Professor Nuriel Roubini’s warnings that the US sub-prime mortgage-backed securities “would unravel worldwide” and bring the “global financial system shuddering to a halt.” My friend from Hong Kong told me long before they crashed that RBS and HBOS were in serious trouble. In contrast to the chancellor’s budget statement, I made a speech to a conference in Edinburgh forecasting economic disaster as the financial tsunami from the USA was even then crossing the Atlantic to drown our economic prospects.

So, there we had a chancellor whose forecasts of growth and boasts of a stable banking system were nothing but foolish hot air, while an old age pensioner was getting it right. The Queen once famously asked of him and others “didn’t anyone see this coming?” The answer is many did see it coming, but were ignored by Alistair and his prime ministerial boss Gordon Brown. With a record like that, not only a little wrong, but totally wrong, how can we be expected to take the leader of Better Together seriously?

Of course, by the time you read this Alistair Darling may not be the leader of Better Together any longer. He is getting the blame for Project Fear not working, which is a bit unfair as all the Unionist parties agreed to that policy, thinking they could frighten the pants off us with terrible tales of woe if we dare vote for independence. That it hasn’t worked is no fault of Darling’s. You can only frighten a frightened people, and this time the Scots are not the fearties we once were.

Johann Lamont may believe, as she said, that “we’re not genetically programmed in Scotland to make political decisions” and so, being as thick as that insult implies, are open to fearmongering. You cannot, however, admit as the Unionists do, that Scotland would be a viable economy with independence, then on every policy forecast disaster if we vote for it, and expect intelligent people (because that’s what we are, Johann) to fall for it.

We hear that Better Together is to tone down the doom and gloom, and tell us some cheery things about staying in the UK. Like the £25 billion of cuts to come after the 2015 general election, the growth of food banks, pay day loans, national debt soaring towards £1.5 trillion, people paying their mortgages with their credit cards, the coming rise in interest rates that will make their lives a bigger misery, and being able for two weeks every four years to cheer on Team GB at the Olympics. No wonder the Yes vote is rising, and will continue to do so.

Fact and fiction are polls apart

The pundits who live in and report from the Westminster bubble thought Nick Clegg had wiped the floor with Nigel Farage in the first debate, and were shocked when the polls said the opposite. That little episode shows that the new political class of MPs and journalists who cosy up to them are no longer connected to the reality the rest of us live in.

We’ve nothing to gloat about

I’m a Hibs season ticket holder, but I must confess that I didn’t like the pre-derby gloating about being the ones to plunge Hearts into the lower division. Edinburgh needs both in the top flight.

The worry after that Hibs defeat is that both might be in the same division next year.

CALLED HIS BLUFF

So, Alex Salmond was right – Osborne is bluffing on a currency union. Downing Street is calling the whistleblowing minister a “rogue”. Honest is a better description.