Scotsman asks black guy for change


So on Tuesday night I switched on the telly in anticipation of Heston Blumenthal’s Buck Mad Cookery Show. But I’m not going to tell you about that, because I got distracted by Faisal Islam. I must admit, I like Faisal Islam. He has this slightly Tiggerish air, with his emphases and his gesticulations and his graphs, that always makes me think he should be presenting Blue Peter or something, rather than doing the economics report on Channel 4 News, which isn’t exactly where you expect to find young and energetic folk.

Anyway, Faisal was interviewing Jim Rogers. Not, I hasten to add, the language-mangling former Lord Mayor of Belfast, but the legendary financier. Jim has a fine line in futurology, and that’s what he was doing on Tuesday night. To summarise, Jim reckons the American economy is fucked, the British economy is even more fucked, and all those whizzkids in the City of London better start learning to drive tractors. He also predicts that the axis of the world economy is going to shift big time to Asia, which is why he’s put his money where his mouth is and moved to Singapore, so his kids can grow up speaking Mandarin.

The occasion for this was El Gordo’s trip to Washington, which seems to be based on the premise that Barack O’Bama will bail out everybody else’s economy. It doesn’t seem to have occurred that the American economy is also bankrupt. The Yanks do have the advantage of a currency that other people want, but that’s being attenuated as Bernanke keeps printing dollars like there’s no tomorrow. Brown also wants O’Bama to join his great crusade against protectionism, but Congressional Democrats may have something to say about that.

Brown’s other big problem, in advance of his G20 jamboree, is that every government is working to its own theory. Even different bits of his cabinet are working to different theories, as the former Trotskyist Alistair Darling tries to keep the banks solvent by nationalising them, while the former Eurocommunist Peter Mandelson wants to keep Royal Mail solvent by privatising it. This is what’s known as joined-up government.

It gets even less coherent when you move to the intergovernmental scale and try to get Washington and Beijing and Paris to all agree common approaches, let alone sign up to Brown’s theory. We saw some of this when the East European bloc in the EU put together a case for a bail-out of the region. Angela Merkel immediately told them to get stuffed, and now the Magyars and Slovaks and Bulgarians are left scratching around for alternatives. Which would be a good opportunity for a canny Russian government, with lots of gas on tap, to quietly reacquire much of the Near Abroad.

Which leads me to a modest proposal. The use of filthy lucre, rather than military might, to extend your empire is something we associate with the Americans. There was the famous Louisiana Purchase when they acquired a huge amount of territory from Napoleonic France; the 1867 purchase of Alaska from the Russians, who weren’t too worried about what the Aleuts or Yup’ik had to say on the matter; and the 1917 purchase of the Virgin Islands from the Danes, who apparently had just remembered they had a Caribbean colony and didn’t know what to do with it.

But there’s a long history of this sort of thing before we enter into the annals of American commercialism. Back in feudal times, it was quite common for skint kings and princes to raise money by selling bits of their territory to their more flush neighbours. That’s why maps of the Holy Roman Empire are as confusing as they are. In fact, there’s an example not far from Gordon’s own backyard. As any Shetlander or Orcadian can tell you, back in the day Orkney and Shetland were not part of Scotland at all but under Norwegian sovereignty. In fact, the islands were Norse-speaking until the 18th century. This changed in 1472 when the King of Norway found himself short of a few kroner and pawned these outlying islands to the King of Scotland, just as his ancestors had rid themselves of Man and the Hebrides.

Why not revive this tradition? The British government doesn’t have many assets to fall back on, but there are some uneconomic parts of the kingdom that Gordon may well think could raise a reasonable price on the open market. The North of Ireland comes to mind. Instead of doing his head in trying to get Peter Robinson to cut costs and reduce the British subvention, he could just sell us to the Chinese. After all, Beijing may own much of Africa and have extensive interests in the Pacific Rim, but a little beachhead in Europe could just come in handy to the up-and-coming mercantile power.


  1. jamie said,

    March 5, 2009 at 3:18 pm

    Mmm. Not much in the way of mineral deposits, though. And I’m not sure Beijing needs another Hong Kong in Europe unless the trade barriers really come slamming down. Still, it might be worth their while getting Harland and Wolff going again.

  2. splinteredsunrise said,

    March 5, 2009 at 4:50 pm

    It all depends if there are any other buyers in the market. The Indians and Koreans may be interested in shipbuilding capacity.

  3. charliemarks said,

    March 6, 2009 at 2:23 am

    You’re starting to take this way too seriously….

  4. Bartholomew said,

    March 6, 2009 at 9:35 pm

    Northerners will speak Mandarin – the Orange language!

  5. steve wonder said,

    March 7, 2009 at 11:50 am

    Is Alastair Darling a former Trot? Educated at Lorreto School (private boarding school outside Edinburgh) and Aberdeen University where as far as I know he was National Organisation of Labour Students/Broad Left, then lawyer and an Edinburgh City councillor, then MP for Edinburgh Central. If an IS or IMG member or associate from these days, I am surprised I had not heard this.

    I know you favour accuracy when discussing someone’s political evolution, as do I.

  6. splinteredsunrise said,

    March 7, 2009 at 12:03 pm

    That would be interesting to nail down. George Galloway likes to tell stories about Darling handing out Marxist-Leninist tracts to bemused railway workers, but I wouldn’t necessarily go on George’s unsupported word. Anyone have firm knowledge on this point?

  7. steve wonder said,

    March 7, 2009 at 2:41 pm

    If Wikipedia is to be believed, he was an IMG supporter, which as a former IMG member (not in Scotland and slightly later) I was not aware. I am quite surprised as he has always struck me as among the most cautious of men, without that certain streak of recklessness that that leads a young lad or lass into rebel circles.

    Its an interesting question as to whether one can always detect youthful leftism in certain tics of the mature pol’s speech and manner. Based on AD, it would seem not. But can anyone confirm the (unreferenced) Wikipedia piece? I am pretty sure that no Red Left candidate could have been elected head of Aberdeen SRC in ’74 or ’75 so any move in that direction would probably have been back in Edinburgh (which had a substantial IMG branch) in ’76 or ’77.

    From wikipedia: “Alistair Darling was born in London[1] the son of a civil engineer, Thomas, and his wife, Anna. He is the great-nephew of Sir William Darling who was Conservative MP for Edinburgh South (1945–1957). He was educated in Kirkcaldy, and the private Loretto School, Musselburgh, East Lothian, then attended the University of Aberdeen where he was awarded a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B). He became the head of Aberdeen University Students Union. Before joining the Labour Party at the age of 23 in 1977, Darling was a supporter of the International Marxist Group, the British section of the Trotskyist Fourth International.[2][3][4] He became a solicitor in 1978, then changed course for the Scots bar and was admitted as an advocate in 1984. He was elected as a councillor to the Lothian Regional Council in 1982 where he supported large rates rises in defiance of Margaret Thatcher’s rate-capping laws and even threatened not to set a rate at all.[2] He served on the council until he was elected to Parliament. He was also a board member for the Lothian and Borders Police and became a governor of Napier College in 1985 for two years”

  8. Madam Miaow said,

    March 8, 2009 at 10:21 am

    I am a Pacific Rimmer, I have ten pounds and a bit of pocket shrapnel, and I claim my place in the queue when Bargain Britain goes under the hammer (but no sickle, sadly).

    Any time now, I believe …

  9. Hasta siempre comandante said,

    March 8, 2009 at 10:56 am

    I went to an SWP meeting at Edinburgh University (1981, I believe) and Alistair Darling spoke at it from the platform. He might already have been a Labour councillor then, I’m not sure. He sounded very Bennite and seemed to have no problem with the Swips. People change over the years, and he certainly has.

  10. March 11, 2009 at 5:30 pm

    There is a small logical hole in this idea of flogging off the six counties to a rising Asian power: you may get undercut.

    Madagascar had agreed to lease half of its arable land – an area half the size of Belgium – to Daewoo, the South Korean conglomerate, for palm oil and corn production – for nothing.


    & in unrelated news: So those Koreans will be look for the equivalent of a few Treaty ports in the region as well…

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