Friday, 30 January 2009

We're paying price for high-flying gambles

HAVE you tried getting a loan from a bank recently? It was always a daunting thought any January after the Christmas splurge.

Of course, the loan sharks are ever obliging, but your friendly High Street bank manager, he should be keen to do business. But he has added new costs and hidden charges.

When banks won't lend to banks what chance a fair deal in Wick?

In recent times, say from 1993 to 2008, getting into debt was the fashion. As a result of light bank regulation under Tories and Labour alike, and multiple credit card offers, our citizens became the most heavily indebted in Europe.

Big government became more and more in love with big banking and a huge new financial services industry built palaces at Canary Wharf or, in the case of RBS, at Gogar near Edinburgh.

It emerged last autumn that the palaces were actually casinos and you and me would have to pay for high-flying gambles that went up like a rocket and came down like a stick into our backyard.

Since we own 70 per cent of RBS, when will we get down to decent terms for local businesses to tick over and families seeking the means to improve their homes?

Trying to get governments and bankers to take responsibility is headline news.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer addressed the International Monetary Fund and World Bank AGM in September 1998 when he advised setting up a worldwide copy of his own model in London.

He said: "In the UK, we published last year a Memorandum of Understanding, setting clear divisions of responsibilities and establishing a regular system of meetings and surveillance to ensure co-operation between our national financial institutions to identify and address systemic risk at an early stage."

Clearly the UK Government has to be asked why it did not work and warn of the economic collapse that befell us last year.

That was made less easy when we were told last week in committee by letter from Mervyn King, the Bank of England governor, that his agent in Scotland would not attend our hearing on the health of the economy.

The whole committee agreed to demand a replay.

Later in the day we heard some astonishing news. Having snubbed the Scottish Parliament in a request to discuss the state of the Scottish economy with the economy, energy and tourism committee, the Bank of England now plans to hold a briefing buffet in Glasgow in February.

If the Bank of England is meant to consult stakeholders assiduously, why won't they meet the Scottish Parliament representatives?

It is after all one of the premier stakeholders in Scotland?

They prefer, it seems, an invitation-only breakfast buffet in Glasgow to talk about the "bank's views on the economy".

Do they even tell their agent in Scotland what relations they have with the Scottish Parliament?

We need to get a full picture of recent economic events and their impact on Scotland – the Parliament must get that full picture for you.

That not only means evidence from bankers but also from the Bank of England, the UK Financial Services Authority and current and previous chancellors of the exchequer.

With the financial services sector playing a significant role in Scotland's economy, it is only right that the Scottish Parliament hears from all those involved in the UK Government, banking, oversight and regulation about how this situation came to pass.

THE Year of Scottish Homecoming has officially extended the haggis supper season to a year-long celebration of Scotland's bard, Robert Burns.

We know he has been translated into many languages, including into Gaelic by the grandfather of my assistant, Niall MacDonald.

Indeed Kofi Annan, the former Secretary General of the United Nations, will speak in Scotland of Burns's global reach.

It is salutary to think that of all the exports from Scotland the most welcome from the South Seas to Russia and China and on to the USA is our national bard.

Incidentally Burns formed the idea himself.

The nation gratefully accepted and the English belatedly called Shakespeare their bard out of envy.

I had the pleasure of addressing the Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross SNP members and guests in Tain last Friday.

It was equally a pleasure to contemplate the stellar influence of a well-educated Scot, helped by his father's strict upbringing to devour books and observe life around him.

From his earliest verse to the songs of the dying days in a short life he reflected the values of his rural society.

To these he mixed a dash of biting satire, a love of the lassies and some of the most advanced political views in the land.

These views were very dangerous to hold in a Tory terror time when he asked, "Does haughty Gaul invasion threat?", as a cover for his real views.

This week's publication of the first Scottish Government Audit of Scots Language Provision is very relevant to us.

You can find the details in a 157-page report posted on the Scottish Government's website.

Suffice to say this SNP Government has put in place direct support for using Scots in the Curriculum for Excellence and many other ways untried before.

There are years of neglect to overcome. It is not so difficult for Scots – which is widely spoken from the Northern Isles and Caithness on to the Borders – but there are centuries of neglect for Gaelic which was rooted out not just as slang but as backward and barbarian.

Both of our native languages need their own prescriptions to prosper and boost our self-esteem.

They underpin who we are, and when the Homecoming TV advert uses Dougie MacLean's song "Caledonia", which is getting more and more airings round the globe, it is a welcome to all parts of Scotland.

On Tuesday evening we were delighted to welcome many of the Far North subjects in Mike McCartney's new documentary photographic album. Even singer Sandi Thom, of "Caledonia" fame, attended at the start of this Year of Homecoming.

We have been happy to share Burns's legacy of freedom and justice with the world, what we don't need in return are the birkies on the bank boards taking a loan of us!

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