A ‘Grexit’ could finally sink the euro – so beware of Greeks bearing threats

THIS is an election year like no other, few can dodge its impact and, whoever wins, most voters will probably feel they’ve lost out.

Because, like a nasty rash, polling fever is erupting almost everywhere and what’s at stake isn’t so much who governs where next, but whether the world plunges into the financial abyss again.

In Britain the only certainty about what will happen in the general election on May 7 is uncertainty, though I have a sneaking suspicion Squire Cameron won’t be handing over the keys to 10 Downing Street.

Why? Because there’ll be what veteran American pollsters wryly recall as the ‘Richard Nixon Gambit’, an event from the annals of politicking gimmickry and the 1960 White House race, squeakily shaded by John F. Kennedy.

Too close to call, the Democrats stooped to a now legendary low in black propaganda by releasing an image of Nixon looking sweaty and shifty behind his grizzled five o’clock shadow, alongside the headline: ‘Would you buy a used car from this man?’

NIXON NIXED: The ad showing a shady Richard Nixon that tipped the 1960 US election JFK's way

NIXON NIXED: The ad showing a shady-looking Richard Nixon that tipped the 1960 US election JFK’s way

The stunt resonated sufficiently for JFK to win literally by a whisker – 49.7% to 49.6% – after voters carried the scary vision of the then Republican Vice President into the polling booths.

Nine years later, and remembering to shave at least twice a day, Tricky Dicky won the presidency – perhaps proving you can’t keep a good crook down – only to resign in 1974 in the murk of the Watergate Scandal.

So, it would surprise me not one iota to see a montage of Ed Miliband snaps, showing the Labour leader at his geekiest worst, cropping up like Comparethemeerket telly ads.

The tacit caption would be: ‘Would you believe this nerd could lead the nation?’

Though Britain’s hustings might be enthralling to dedicated followers of UK politics, they are a parish-pump sideshow to elections globally – and I don’t mean in Burkina Faso, where President Blaise Compaoré is hotly tipped to get the heave-ho in November.

Nor am I referring to Israel’s March vote, which will predictably end in a cobbled-together Left or Right-wing coalition government, neither of which will bow to Palestinian blackmail and have imposed on them a factionalised, corruption-riddled Arab statelet that adamantly refuses to recognise its neighbour’s right to exist.

And forget the polls in Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt, which sully the name of democracy. Ditto Estonia, Finland and Poland, where properly constituted elections should hardly cause a ripple on the Richter scale of political earthquakes.

No, the fun – if that’s not too sardonic a description – is in the European Union’s Club Med nations, beginning next Sunday in Greece, the so-called ‘sick man of Europe’ (well, considerably more bilious compared to the ailing rest).

CAN’T PAY, WON’T PAY: Alex Tsipras (left), head of Greece’s Syriza bloc, demands debt relief to relieve his nation’s plight…or else

Because if a bunch of rebel populists called Syriza, who make the Chinese Communist politbureau look like Young Conservatives, the flaking euro is in for a further buffeting, one which – this time – could actually prelude the first exit of a member state from the Eurozone.

A bloc of far-Left hardliners led by neo-Marxist Che Guevara fan, Alexis Tsipras, the thrust of Syriza’s manifesto is simple: ‘Stop austerity – or we’ll stop paying our debts’, beginning with the instalment of €6.7-billion due to the European Central Bank (ECB) in July.

Unless you’re an International Monetary Fund (IMF) bean-counter, it’s a difficult to gauge just how much Greece owes creditors and what interest it’s cranking up. But terms like ‘colossal’ and ‘humungous’ are understatements and, as one economist noted, ‘At the current rate of pay-down, it’ll 130 years before they return to where they were in 2008.’

How a nation that produced arithmetical geniuses such as Pythagoras, Archimedes and Euclid got itself into such a mega-mess – or managed to flannel its way into the Eurozone in the first place – is no longer the issue.

With unemployment rocketing, the prospect of triple-dip deflation and Greece’s economy screwed to the floor by the ‘Troika’ – that’s the IMF, ECB and European Union, otherwise known as Greater Deutschland – Tsipras is demanding a 50% write-off its debts, just as the international community let Germany get away with in 1953.

For the record, deflation is a mixed blessing. In the UK, where inflation has fallen to 0.5%, courtesy of falling oil, food and commodity prices, consumer spending power is boosted. In contrast, what it means for the Eurozone is rising joblessness, stagnant wages, weak consumption and an inexorable slide into deflation.

POKER FACE: Germany's Merkel fears that a 'Grexit' would be contagious and infect other Club Med states

POKER FACE: But Germany’s Merkel fears that a ‘Grexit’ would be contagious and infect other Club Med states

Meanwhile, despite lame messages from Chancellor Angela Merkel about wanting to keep Greece in the club – which chimes with what Syriza claims it wants – behind the scenes an ultra-high-stakes game of diplomatic poker is being played, with many German politicians refusing to blink first.

‘We are past the days when we still have to rescue Greece,’ insists Michael Fuchs, parliamentary leader of Merkel’s Christian Democrats. “The situation has completely changed from three years ago. Greece is no longer systemically relevant for the euro.’

In fact, it was recently revealed that in 2011 Germany offered Greece a ‘friendly’ return to the drachma, the so-called ‘Grexit’ option. However, Merkel had an attack of the jitters when it became clear Spain and Italy would be mired by contagion from it.

Notwithstanding great strides the Spanish and, to a lesser extent, the Italians have made in putting their houses into better financial shape, with both nations also facing elections in 2015, many voters are looking to see what happens in Athens before they decided which way to jump.

The storm clouds are certainly gathering in Spain, where the Left-wing upstarts of Podemos (‘We Can’), who are allies of Syriza, are currently leading the polls on an anti-corruption, anti-austerity ticket.

Which is why Merkel fears a domino effect across the Club Med if Greece defaults on its IOUs, starts afresh with a new drachma and its economy shows signs of revival.

Because, however tentatively it finds its newly-liberated feet, the Greeks will offer an example to others stretched on the German-imposed financial rack to do likewise.

And the lure of a born-again peseta or lira – plus the freedom of nations to structure their own destiny – might be too strong to resist.

So watch this space…2015 could be the year that reshapes the future of the Eurozone.

 

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Making predictions is a mug’s game, so don’t worry – mine will be 100% wrong (again!)

IN his palatial City office in London’s Canary Wharf, my friend – chief economist of a major, global financial institution – sits behind a desk so gargantuan it could the solve the issue of Heathrow’s third runway.

Chewing the fat with him one day at the height of the 2008 banking meltdown, I asked this master of the universe when he thought the crisis would end.

Instead of answering, he just shrugged, then nodded towards an ornate plinth in the corner of his mini fiefdom, on which was mounted a soccer-sized crystal ball.

‘Take a dekko inside that,’ said my friend eventually. ‘You’ve a better chance of finding the answer in there than from me.’

I left, shaking my head and musing on the folly of making predictions.

This thought was rekindled last week, when I read an apologia from a financial whizkid, who wrote, ‘No-one expected this sudden, sharp drop in crude oil prices.’

His buzzword was ‘sudden’. Because, if the anointed experts had seen it coming, there would have been no shock.

STARDOM BECKONS: Cyberhackers will forced movie moguls to move to North Korea, so Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un will be an Oscar winner

STARDOM BECKONS: Cyberhackers will force movie moguls to move to North Korea, so Young Leader, Kim Jong Un, will be an Oscar winner for his role as Wonder Woman

In fact, looking back, the only person in my experience to make an accurate prediction was Madam Petrulengo, the palmist on Blackpool promenade, who forecast I’d get a ticket on my car parked outside on a double yellow line. She was right; I did.

So, generally, it’s been my firm prediction that the likely outcome to making predictions is the predictions will be totally wrong. And, so far, my record has been 100% accurate.

Nonetheless, since it’s that time of year, worst luck, when my arm is twisted into risking a spot of soothsaying, here goes…and heaven help us if I’m right.

Firstly, the nightmarish potboiler that’s a story of purblind Eurozone politicians will rumble on, with no consensus to ease the plight of the EU’s jobless, homeless and hopeless. Shovels will be issued to Euro commissioners, so they can did themselves into bigger holes.

Beyond-the-barmy, Right-wing parties – like France’s National Front, Hungary’s Jobbick and Greece’s Golden Dawn – will democratically vote to end democracy, while Brussels Europrats will take 2015 off and nobody will notice any difference.

Vladimir Putin will order Russians to bathe in oil, because – at $60 a barrel and sliding – it’ll be cheaper than water. The population of Moscow, barring oligarchs who can afford to import Evian by the tankerload, will assume a brackish, oleaginous glow, so they’ll be light-reflective. This will reduce the number of pedestrians struck down by drunk drivers at night, thus hailed as a health and safety success by the Kremlin.

END OF THE ROAD: With petrol-powered vehicles banned, rickshaws will be London's most popular form of transport

END OF THE ROAD: With petrol-powered vehicles facing a ban, rickshaw pullers will rush to become London’s most ‘eco’ form of transport

Americans will finally realise President Obama is actually a hologram, since he’s been as effective as one for the last half-dozen years. During 2015, he’ll gradually evaporate like the Cheshire Cat in Alice In Wonderland, with only a grin left behind.

Hillary Clinton will declare her intention to run as Democratic Party candidate for the White House and she’ll face Jeb Bush, brother of G Dubya and son of HW, who’ll fly the flag of the Republican cause.

US geneticists will then discover only members of presidential dynasties possess that unique strand of DNA – the two-faced, lie-through-the-teeth, back-stab helix – to be leaders, so there’ll be a nationwide hunt for descendants of Richard Nixon to stand in future hustings.

North Korean cyber-hackers will blackmail Hollywood’s movie moguls into relocating their studios to Pyongyang and the dashingly handsome Young Leader, Kim Jong Un, will be the next James Bond, Batman and Wonder Woman, a role for which he’ll award himself an Oscar.

A bloke called Nigel will decide who wins next May’s UK General Election.

No, not that Nigel – the UKIP Farage one – but Nigel Dodds, whom nobody outside Northern Ireland (and few inside it for that matter) has ever heard of.

But with an expected mish-mash outcome to the result, with neither of the major parties winning a majority, the minor cast members will be crucial players in deciding who rules. In short, reprising 2010, the tail will wag the dog.

Which is where Doddsy comes in. Tipped to replace Peter Robinson as leader of Ulster’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) – the bunch invented by the late Reverend Ian Paisley, who brought the fire and brimstone of religion to bear on politics – Nige could even emerge as Deputy Prime Minister, depending on which way he throws the dice of his eight MPs.

After much cogitation, as a huge fan of Wallace & Gromit, he will come out in favour of Ed Miliband for Prime Minister, since the Labour leader is a doppelganger for Wallace and Wensleydale is also the DUP’s favourite cheese.

NOBEL LAUREATE & CIGAR MAGNET: Pope Francis will scoop the Peace Prize and the Vatican worldwide rights to selling Havana cigars

NOBEL LAUREATE & CIGAR MAGNET: Pope Francis will scoop the Peace Prize and the Vatican worldwide rights to selling Havana cigars

The Tories will sack David Cameron, merge with UKIP to become the Conservative, Unionist and UK Independence Party and elect London Mayor, Boris Johnson, as leader, who’ll make Nigel – the Farage one – Shadow Foreign Secretary.

Nick Clegg will quit as head honcho of the Liberal Democrats; their core voters will switch to the Greens, who’ll demand a ban on all forms of petrol-powered transport, resulting in an influx of Hong Kong rickshaw pullers, in anticipation they will eventually replace London’s Routemaster buses.

In the Middle East, the Saudis will wreck the Iranian economy by driving down the price of oil to a bucket of camel dung a barrel and do a back-channel deal with Israel to buy the Matzoball Bomb – a doomsday weapon with a difference, since all infected by its fallout turn Jewish.

It will first be tested on the headbanging jihadi rabble of IS/ISIL/ISIS, thorns by any other name in the side of humanity, who will – en masse – discard their AK47s to become rabbinical students.

Pope Francis will be awarded the Nobel Peace prize for his role in patching up the 45-year US-Cuba tiff; the Vatican will be given the worldwide concession to peddle Havana cigars.

Finally, the space probe, Cassini, will discover huge gold and diamond deposits on Saturn; FIFA will announce the 2026 World Cup will be held there.

So those are my forecasts for next year. But they’ll be wrong all counts, because, from long experience, I learnt there’s  no future in making predictions.

The curious EU ‘club’ that rewards failure and punishes success

WINSTON Churchill once described Russia as ‘a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma’ and today he might well have said the same about the European Union.

Because, nothing is ever quite what it seems in the Alice Through the Looking-glass world of Brussels, where transparency is as rare as hens’ teeth.

Far from being a fraternity of hail fellow well met, the whole edifice is riven with self-interest, Machiavellian infighting and coded language so inscrutable, either its meaning gets lost in translation or the message it conveys depends on whose ears it falls on.

There are, in fact, two EUs: the theoretical club, driven by dreamers with a vision of a United States of Europe, where all citizens are equal and peaceable; then there’s the actual one, where the vested interests of the kingpins – Germany, Britain, France, Italy and, to a lesser extent, Spain – rule the roost and call the shots.

So don’t mess with the German auto industry, literally the engine of its economy. No tinkering, either, with France’s agrarian follies, hence the farce of the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, whereby French farmers get paid absurd sums to play with their boules.

Italy’s fashion sector is similarly ring-fenced and Spain’s pot pourri of industries, ranging from tourism to wine to olive oil to banking and construction, earn it a free pass.

And then there’s Britain, the globe’s financial epicentre, but semi-detached from Europe by the world’s biggest anti-tank ditch and full of idiosyncrasies, like driving on the wrong side of the road.

The EU considers Brits its awkward squad; free-market, anti-protectionists, who demand answers to commonsensical questions snotty Europrats ignore…like why the European Court of Auditors last week refused to sign off Brussels’ accounts for 19th successive time and why there’s a £5.5-billion black hole in this year’s £117-billion spending.

Which is why the latest brouhaha between London and Brussels smacks of pure hypocrisy on the EU rule-makers’ part.

Because the UK chose not to inflict upon itself the masochism of the dysfunctional Euro – along with a paralysed European Central Bank – by injecting cash into its economy via quantative easing (QE), it has emerged from the 2008/9 financial crisis faster and stronger than the Eurozone nations.

Though by no means out of the financial excrement, unemployment in Britain is a fraction of Spanish, French and Italian levels, and the Coalition government – give or take a Lib-Dem – is far more pro-enterprise than anywhere in the still-floundering EU.

EURO MELTDOWN: As the EU struggles, Britain pays a high price for controlling its own destiny - and currency

EURO MELTDOWN: As the EU struggles, Britain pays a high price for controlling its own destiny – and currency

That, in itself, should be an object lesson to Brussels in can-do economic competence, not the £1.7-billion penalty imposed on the UK for outperforming its EU partners since 1995.

The surcharge – which factors £7-billion into Britain’s GDP gleaned from the immoral earning of prostitution and drug pushing – comes on top of the country’s net contribution to the EU budget, predicted to be around £10-billion for 2014.

Clearly, ladies of the night and spliff vendors should spend more time off the streets, since their efforts, while welcome in some quarters, aren’t in the national interest.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister David Cameron is righteously indignant over what’s described in bland, EU-speak as ‘a correction to Britain’s contribution’.

The government of Greece – the Eurozone’s basket case – feels similarly narked, since it must cough up hundreds of millions it hasn’t got to prop up powerhouses like Germany.

In Britain’s case it was given until December 1 to pay or face a £41-million fine, plus punitive interest of £2.3-million a day or 52% per annum on the £1.7-billion.

Never mind Wonga.com, according to one seething Tory MP, such usury would make ‘the most predatory payday loan-shark blush.’

So Chancellor George Osborne was despatched to Brussels on Friday on a damage-limitation mission, after Cameron said he would not pay the ‘completely unacceptable’ bill, warning it would reduce the chances of the UK staying in the EU.

Some kind of iffy creative accountancy has now been cobbled, with Osborne claiming the amount has been reduced by half, interest charges axed and the UK can stage-pay the outstanding £850-million next year.

However, what the waffle doesn’t address is why the UK was saddled with the burden in the first place.

This latest spat comes at a moment when Cameron plans to outline proposals to cap immigration from Europe, possibly by introducing an Australian-style point system to deter benefit-scroungers or demand that migrants have a job offer and, if not, the funds to support themselves for three months until they find work.

SHOWING THE WAY? German Chancellor Merkel makes her point - literally! - UK Premier Cameron

SHOWING THE WAY? German Chancellor Merkel makes her point – quite literally! – to UK Premier Cameron

It’s an issue that runs straight into another Brussels’ brick wall, but one which Cameron is tailoring to woo Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel, who desperately wants the UK in the Union and faces her own problems over unfettered immigration.

However, the runes on both contentious matters directly affecting Britain – the ‘correction fee’ and curbing incomers – make unpleasant reading on both sides of the Channel.

While wriggle room may have been found to reduce the price Britain must pay for its success, Merkel is under pressure from Brussels not to compromise on the free movement of peoples, a pillar of EU statism.

This was highlighted by the influential political magazine, Der Spiegel, last week, which claimed Mutti – as Merkel is affectionately known in Germany – was prepared to accept a British bye-bye, the so-called ‘Brexit’ option, from the EU.

However, as I said, much can be lost in the translation. That’s why sources close to the German leader quickly pointed out that she considers Brexit ‘möglich’, which means ‘possible’ and she fears it, because she distrusts the profligate France and wants Britain to remain her partner.

With UKIP’s anti-European mavericks and Conservative Eurosceptics rumbling with discontent, Cameron is stuck between a similar rock and hard place.

Despite promising an in-out referendum on the EU in 2017 if he’s re-elected next May and his own, declared intention to campaign to stay in, the Prime Minister is likely to face a tough job convincing a British electorate increasing hostile to Brussels to trust his judgement.

Rightly, they pose the question: if the EU isn’t for its people, what is it for?

Answering the ‘English Question’ is the key to Cameron staying on as Britain’s PM

WHISPS of highland mist still swirl over Scotland’s great referendum result – and will continue to do so for some considerable time, in my humble estimation – but glimmers of clarity are breaking through the haze.

Possibly the harshest lesson from it goes out to the Catalans, Basques, Bretons, Cornish and any of the European Union’s minor players and it is: if you’ve any pipedreams of secession,  Brussels will blow them to smithereens.

On the lighter side, rumours Prince Franz of Bavaria, heir to the Stuart dynasty, will replace The Queen as Scotland’s monarch have been, well scotched, so to speak, and – three cheers! – Piers Morgan is leaving Britain (or so he said).

The unctuous chat-show host promised he’d shove off as his personal thank-you if the No vote prevailed. It did, so I suggest Rockall would be a fitting destination, since it’s uninhabited and he can talk to himself all day long and discover what we all know: he’s a snotty, egotistical bore.

Other oddball news: CNN’s exit poll called the referendum result 58% to 52% in favour of Yes. Not only a wildly inaccurate projection, it casts doubt on Americans ability to master simple percentages – unless, that is, 5.5 million folk do comprise 110% of Scotland.

Meanwhile, Labour leader, Ed Miliband, apparently represents a Scottish constituency in Doncaster North (yes, you heard it right).

FINGER PAINTING: But Miliband's picture of himself as a British PM didn't inspire Labour's faithful in Manchester last week

FINGER PAINTING: But Miliband’s picture of himself as a British PM didn’t inspire Labour’s faithful in Manchester last week

The Yorkshire town was ceded to Scotland more than 900 years ago as part of the Treaty of Durham, after King David pillaged large areas of northern England and Doncaster remained in Scottish hands for 21 years, until Henry II reclaimed it in 1157.

The treaty, however, was never formally revoked, which will come as a thunderbolt to many proud Tykes I know, who’d always believed they were inhabiting God’s Own County, not some Celtic Gibraltar.

Absurd as this situation may seem, though, it might do Ed a power of good. As the representative of an ostensible Scottish constituency in England, he’ll still be able to vote, if – as that semi-Jock, David Cameron, has threatened – Scots MPs in Westminster will be barred from voting on matters affecting only the English.

This, you see, is the Prime Minister’s canny solution to the arcane West Lothian Question, as posed by Left-wing firebrand, Tam Dalyell, the then Labour MP for the Scottish seat.

In a 1977 House of Commons debate on devolution, he asked, ‘For how long will English MPs tolerate at least 119 Honourable Members from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland exercising an important, and probably often decisive, effect on English politics, while they themselves have no say in the same matters in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?’

That idiosyncrasy has assumed fresh gravitas, as the Scottish Parliament is poised to receive extensive new powers – including setting its own levels of income tax and VAT – so Cameron has delegated sorting out the ‘English Question’ to his ex-Foreign Minister, William Hague, and a draft bill is due by January 25, aptly Robbie Burns Night.

Legislation can then be passed before next spring’s UK General Election.

Behind this haste to beat the May 7 polling deadline lies a fiendish Tory plot, one that’s left Miliband ambushed and outraged,  casting a shroud over the Labour’s Party annual knees-up, last week in Manchester.

A nobbled Ed complains Cameron is ‘playing politics’ following the Scottish No victory, but isn’t that exactly the rough, old trade both chose to follow.

WRONG CALL: According to CNN, Scotland's Yes voters were about to win the referendum 58%-52%

WRONG CALL/MUDDLE MATHS: According to CNN, Scotland’s Yes voters were about to win the referendum 58%-52%

Miliband’s dread is if Labour wins only a narrow majority in the next parliament, thanks to retaining its 40 MPs north of the border, he’ll be a stymied, partial PM, his writ on domestic policy extending no further than England (that’s presuming Welsh and Northern Irish MPs also get the block put on them).

Additionally, the ploy could outflank UKIP, the self-styled English liberation army, even if it forces a constitutional crisis the like of which a country that doesn’t even boast a written constitution has never seen.

Unsurprisingly, Conservative MPs – especially the unhinged, Eurosceptic fringe – are salivating like rabid dogs over the prospect of English votes for English laws, since all but nine of Cameron’s current crop of 304 represent constituencies in England against Labour’s total of 256 spread across the UK.

Nor are some Labourites blind to the idea of ‘freedom’ for England, a question Miliband dodged 13 times on last Sunday’s BBC1 Andrew Marr show.

Former minister, Ben Bradshaw, called for the party to ‘grasp the nettle’ of English home rule, adding there was an ‘innate and accurate feeling’ in the country that the ‘imbalance is unfair.’

Meanwhile, most Tories also want to see an end to the Barnett Formula or block grant, another piece of hoary, esoteric legislation that leaves the average voter utterly bamboozled.

As Chief Secretary to the Treasury from 1974 to 1977, Joel Barnett – an accountant by trade and now Lord Barnett of Heywood and Royton – was Denis Healey’s bagman in the Callaghan government and tasked with the job of adjusting the amount of Whitehall largesse doled out to the UK’s four regions.

I won’t trouble you with the gobbledygook of the Formula, since, like me, you’d suddenly be overcome with the desire to have a siesta or commit hara-kiri. The net result, though, is Scotland receives over £1,600 per head more than England and even the now ancient peer admits it’s unfair and should be scrapped or revised.

OCH AYE TO DONNY: According to history, Doncaster - Miliband's parliamentary seat - is still part of Scotland

OCH AYE TO DONNY: Legally, according to historical treaty, Doncaster, Yorkshire – Miliband’s parliamentary seat – is still part of Scotland

Cameron says he won’t touch it. But, should his stewardship extend beyond 2015, my bet is he’ll face a full-blow revolt from his own backstabbers if it isn’t at least tinkered with.

What there is no escaping, however,  is the notion of federalism taking root in the minds of British voters, who are fast concluding all regions of the UK can achieve more for them if they have governments or assemblies to fight their personal corner.

Labour, the midwife of devolution, is none too chuffed about the prospect and Miliband studiously avoided it when addressing the faithful last Wednesday in what should have been a rousing, final, pre-election call to arms.

In a 78-minutes long speech, so insipid it made Gordon Brown appear positively charismatic, Red Ed concentrated almost solely on the National Health Service and – by his own, embarrassed admission – there were too many glaring, policy omissions

But he’s really a highly cerebral, decent bloke, who’d make a great Prime Minister, Labour insiders insist.

The problem is he has less than eight months to convince voters of that. And, so far, many fear – rather than welcome – the prospect.

Bruiser Brown saves the peace of the Union, but Cameron and Miliband go to war

SO you though it was all over – Squire Cameron magnanimous in victory and a crestfallen Alex Salmond falling on his sword as First Minister and Nationalists’ clan chieftain, after No voters won by a convincing 10% majority to keep Scotland British.

But, if you imagine business would return to usual, you’d be daydreaming. Because the ‘afters’ of the Scottish referendum are already rumbling. And, what’s more, they’ll only worsen.

Salmond’s departure – he’ll quit in November at the SNP conference, though remain a member of Scotland’s parliament – was entirely predictable, even though he’d always denied defeat would force him to stand down.

However, the wee man was going nowhere until he put the boot into Cameron and Labour leader, Ed Miliband, vowing he’d ‘hold their feet to the fire’ if they didn’t deliver on the ‘staying home’ prezzies they’d promised if the Scots rebuffed independence.

The problem is Cameron immediately let the cat out of his goodie-bag, saying concessions would  be tied to new rights for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, too…one of which would bar Scottish MPs in Westminster voting on English matters – answering the so-called West Lothian Question.

Miliband is understandably furious, because, should he win next May’s general election, what use will his 40 Jocks be in the House of Commons if he can’t legislate for the whole UK?

And there was me thinking the acrimony would be largely confined to north of the border, between the Yea and Nay camps.

NO VOTE STAR: Unionists were in panic until ex-PM Gordon Brown entered the fray

NO VOTE STAR TURN: Unionists were in panic until ex-PM Gordon Brown entered the fray and saved their day

The last fortnight of campaigning strongly suggested that, as the hustings degenerated into the bitterest, nastiest and most vindictive clash in modern, political history.

Many commentators claim the pivotal moment came in the second debate between the cocky, would-be laird of Scots and Better Together leader, Alistair Darling. Broadcast by the BBC, to my mind the audience were so brazenly pro-Yes, they sounded like the Nats’ vision of their promised tartan army.

Having been done up like a stuffed haggis in the earlier TV joust, Salmond turned the rematch into the verbal equivalent of a Saturday night brawl in a Sauchiehall Street boozer, as the quietly articulate Darling was outshouted by the baying mob.

From here on in the opinion polls went haywire – one overturning a No lead of 20-odd points into a Yes edge of plus six – as did many Nats’ nutters, intent on making the streets no-go areas for No proponents.

Melodramatically draped in saltire flags, pride and prejudice – against the despised English – were the home rulers’ battle cries and anyone defying the Braveheart call branded unpatriot.

So pro-No faithful were harried and harassed, their meetings disrupted by gobby hecklers; Union sympathisers were cowed into keeping shtum; Miliband was forced to abandon a walkabout in Edinburgh; and, as threats peppered the air, Respect MP, George Galloway – no cringing violet when vitriol is flying – claimed he was ‘promised a bullet.’

‘This is Salmond’s Scotland,’ said the firebrand defender of Islam. ‘He’s responsible for this hysteria, but we have to keep hatred and violence out of this debate.’

Yet, despite the eyes of the world watching, any condemnation of the ruffians in his ranks was absent from Salmond, a man whose mouth rarely shuts.

YES-TERDAY'S MAN: A dour Alex Salmond concedes his independence pipedream has gone up in smoke

YES-TERDAY’S MAN: A dour Salmond concedes his independence pipedream has gone up in smoke and says he’s quitting as First Minister of Scotland

Truth be told, winning at any cost was all that mattered to his Team Scotland. And, if it meant gloves off and Queensbury Rules be damned, anyone was fair game, especially the BBC’s Political Editor, Nick Robinson.

Allegations of intimidation came thick and fast from those in ‘fear of the consequences’ from the Little Scotlanders of the SNP government.

‘Stuff and nonsense,’ blustered Salmond, continuing, in the best traditions of a snake-oil salesman, to flog a panacea for all Scots’ ills, despite every shred of evidence contradicting his evermore outlandish claims.

Inflated with braggadocio, the First Minister brushed aside petty-fogging details, like the Bank of England vetoing an Anglo-Scottish sterling zone, no automatic entry into the European Union – underscored on Tuesday again by Spain – and his wee army being barred from NATO.

All Tory-orchestrated phooey, insisted Salmond, as billions flooded out of his future Xanadu, financial institutions made plans to scarper over Hadrian’s Wall, while retail bosses warned Scots faced skyrocketing prices in the event of independence.

But, while Salmond’s glib claims that what lay ahead was a Celtic Norway – egalitarian, inclusive, environmentally green, business-friendly and a bastion of peace – resonated with a sometimes volatile, mainly male constituency, women proved more sanguine.

Worried about prices and jobs, the lasses weren’t for reeling blindly into the great unknown and neither were many of the bairns, fresh-faced 16 and 17-year-olds, handed the vote by Salmond on a bet they’d back him.

NO TO YES: Pro-Union fans celebrate their great referendum victory

NO TO SAYING YES: Pro-Better Together fans jubilantly celebrate their great referendum victory

They, too, were fearful, since many saw their futures south of the border, as millions of Scottish migrants had during three centuries of Union.

Salmond’s game was probably up a week ago, but it’s impossible to pinpoint the exact time when canny heads overcame passionate hearts.

That Scotland came so close to secession, however, should be an object lesson to the smug, Westminster elite, who only awoke last month to danger signals flashing red for the two years since Cameron gave Salmond a free hand to call the shots.

Why, for instance, wasn’t the big question ‘Do you want to stay in the Union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland?’ instead of ‘Do you want an independent Scotland?’

As Sky TV pundit, Adam Boulton noted, ‘Saying yes is a lot easier than justifying saying no.’

And why – as many MPs ask – did the Prime Minister give Scotland’s chief mischief-maker so long to get his ducks in order, when a quick plebiscite would have guaranteed the Unionists an easier fight?

A further query exposes yet more Establishment folly: why was Darling, the last Labour Chancellor and a highly cerebral nice guy, tasked with taking on a bumptious tub-thumper like Salmond?

Fortunately for the Three Stooges – Cameron, his Lib-Dem sidekick, Nick Clegg, and geeky Miliband – cometh the moment, cometh the man, even if he was yesterday’s man.

It was only when that old bruiser, Gordon Brown, took a grip on the panicky Yes camp and infused real passion into it that traditional, but wavering Labour voters were hauled back from the brink of putting their Xs in the Yes box.

Britain has much to thank the failed Prime Minister for keeping the Union together and however good a bruiser Salmond is, he’s savvy enough to realise he more than met his match in Brown…and it was time to quit.

Why the UK repels all boarders from the Euroland of no borders

AFTER losing Calais – England’s last possession in France – in 1558, just before a lethal dose of flu did for her notoriously bloody reign, Queen Mary I bemoaned, ‘When I am dead, you will find Calais engraved upon my heart’.

British monarchs aren’t often remiss at losing things. That said, fumbling King John dropped the crown jewels in The Wash, while Britain lost its American colonies under George III and Lord North was forced to quit as Prime Minister (David Cameron take note if the Scots vote ‘Aye’ in Thursday’s referendum).

Meanwhile, for four-and-a-half centuries Calais hasn’t featured on UK plc’s bucket list… until now. And it’s not that we want it back – it’s the French who want us back.

Not, I hasten to add, to repossess our ancient toehold in continental Europe, but to help stem a near floodtide of illegal immigrants using the port as a springboard for cross-Channel flits to what they perceive as the Eldorado of Ingleterre.

A dozen years ago, when a similar crisis exploded over the refugee camp at Sangatte, the French government shut it and disperse the mainly Kosovan occupants besieging the Eurotunnel entrance.

However, that typical example of quick-fix, Gallic short-termism was no solution to the challenge of what to do with displaced people from greatly afflicted, far-off lands, believing only the West – especially Britain – offered hope and salvation.

Hence, all France achieved was to move the problem a few kilometres down the coast where it resurfaced in Calais.

GATECRASHERS: Angry asylum-seekers and illegal migrants try to storm a barrier at Calais

GATECRASHERS: Angry asylum seekers and illegal migrants try to storm a barrier at Calais

So now ugly, daily scenes there see wannabe migrants – estimated at 1,500 and mostly Eritreans, Somalis, Sudanese and Afghans – try to clamber aboard lorries, caravans, booze-cruise vans and even into the boots of tourists’ cars, desperate to bid au revoir to France and hello to Britain.

Pouring in at an accelerating rate, they are overwhelming police, infuriating once sympathetic locals and fuelling a far-Right backlash.

Meanwhile, despite advanced detection technology – including carbon dioxide and heart-beat sensors, plus sniffer dogs – each day the situation worsens and 10 to 15 migrants evade the security cordon and make it through.

In their frenzied lust for freedom, the stateless ones have also refined their tactics. Last week, at least a hundred stampeded through the port, overwhelming guards and forcing one ferry to pull up its ramp and stop loading vehicles.

Freight trucks are the prime target. En route to the embarkation quays, they are pelted with stones to slow them down, so escapees can more easily scramble inside or beneath.

Truckers, who face hefty fines in Britain if caught with migrants hiding in their cargo bays, are retaliating, many now using refrigerated vehicles with stronger walls and padlocked doors.

‘But such lorries are more expensive to buy and run,’ complained a Turkish driver.

As Calais – which sees 12 million tourists and 1.9 million trucks pass through each year – hunkers down under siege, it, too, is counting the cost.

UK MUST PAY: Local mayor, Natacha Bouchart says Calais's problem is caused by Britain's 'soft' welfare state

UK MUST PAY: Local mayor, Natacha Bouchart, says Calais’s problems are caused because Britain is ‘too soft’ 

And its authorities are in no doubt about who should bears responsible for that: Britain.

Mayor Natacha Bouchart says, ‘We want the UK Government to think about the its rules, which are possibly the best in Europe for immigrants. Britain must be less soft.’

That’s why she wants the UK to foot the £12M bill for security her council pays, without a euro’s assistance from the French government or Brussels.

In actuality, Britain has contributed £3M to tighter controls at Calais and Immigration Minister, James Brokenshire, has offered to send 20 kilometres of 3.3 metre-high steel barriers, recently used at the NATO summit in Wales

The British government, he points out, also takes a tough line on illegal immigrants, denying them the right to rent homes, open bank accounts or obtain driving licences.

Still, Madam Bouchart’s anger is understandable. She’s lumbered with someone else’s problem and has enough of her own, running a town of 75,000 citizens, where unemployment is soaring.

While there is no denying the world is seeing a mass shift in demographics, the mayor misses the point: the EU’s Schengen Agreement – from which Britain opted out – renders Euroland practically borderless.

Therefore it’s entirely possible for sinister people traffickers to transport their human cargoes thousands of miles, through several conjoined states, without ever encountering a frontier post.

Schengen was meant to be a pillar of freedom, whereby citizens could travel across the EU unhindered by visa checks. But, its theory long ago parting company from reality and the treaty has become a millstone round the EU’s neck.

Since the European Court of Human Rights bans nations from returning shiploads of illegals back to whence they came, many states on Euroland’s periphery cynically play pass the asylum seeker to their next-door neighbour.

Italy and Greece comprise two main gateways into Europe from Africa and Asia.

Yet, instead of processing incomers on arrival, as the 1990 Dublin Convention demands, both tacitly usher the unwanted away, hinting Britain and Germany might be more conducive destinations.

RETURN TO SENDER: Lord Michael Howard, former UK Interior Minister, says countries must process immigrants where they land in the EU

RETURN TO SENDER: Lord Michael Howard, former UK Interior Minister, says countries must process immigrants where they land in the EU

Sharing the mayor of Calais’s frustration, former Tory leader Lord Michael Howard last week noted, ‘The general principle that every member state of the European Union has subscribed to is that people fleeing persecution should apply for asylum in the first safe country they reach.’

At least during Howard’s term as Home Secretary (Interior Minister) in the 1990s there was accord that Britain would repatriate asylum seekers who’d managed to cross the Channel back to France, where their applications for sanctuary would be assessed.

The French eventually wearied of this ‘return-to-sender’ policy, which was why, in 2012, the then president, Nicholas Sarkozy, threaten to ditch Schengen and all the unforeseen, unintended consequences it’s thrown up.

Now, only the Europrats of Brussels can resolve the problem, either by demanding EU states take full responsibility for policing the desperate souls when they fetch up on their shores or by beefing up border checks, irrespective of what Schengen says.

My guess is they’ll do neither. So Britain will continue to repel all boarders and Calais will remain an expensive open prison for the great stateless ones and dispossessed.

For the sake of progress, the EU must junk Juncker’s presidential bid

SCANNING the likely runners in the forthcoming European Union presidential stakes, I was suddenly distracted by the question: which animal would best symbolise the EU.

After all, America’s political parties long ago adopted creatures as quirky symbols – the Democratic donkey seen as smart and brave, the Republican elephant strong and dignified.

Many countries also have beasts they regard as emblematic…Britain the bulldog, France a cockerel and Russia a bear.  So I set my mind to choosing one that captured the essence of the EU and initially seized on the camel.

After much deliberation, though, I sacked it on the grounds it would give Europhiles the hump, despite my belief a camel encapsulated typical EU ‘group think’: a horse designed by committee.

The idea of a hippo briefly appealed, since it spends most of its time wallowing in muddy self-gratification or underwater, oblivious to criticism.

Then – voila! – the rhino raised its monstrous head. Thick-skinned, brutish and easily nettled, it’s also short-sighted but blessed with an acute sense of smell to alert it to threats.

Besides, the comparison between the lumbering ungulate and today’s newly-elected EU assembly seemed apt, since MEPs are behaving in rather rhino-ish ways in their hostility to the heads of Europe’s 28 member states, each of whom appoints a commissioner to Brussels.

The rumpus concerns who replaces José Manuel Barroso as President in November, but, more significantly, who has the right to appoint a successor.

FACE FROM THE PAST: UK Premier, David Cameron, doesn't want Juncker as the next EU Commission leader

FACE FROM THE PAST: UK Premier, David Cameron, doesn’t want Juncker as the next EU Commission leader

All eleven, previous bosses owed their jobs to accommodations struck between national leaders.

Now, however, the largest party grouping of MEPs claims it is entitled it to decide who rules the EU roost, even if the 2008 Lisbon Treaty simply say its views should be ‘taken into account’.

Certainly, giving power to elected representatives would be a step in a democratic direction for an institution not famed as egalitarian.

But therein lies the rub. The main clique is the European Peoples’ Party (EEP) – an amalgam of centre-Right democrats, which David Cameron’s Conservatives quit in protest at its archly federalist tendencies – and their preferred candidate is Jean-Claude Juncker.

The problem is the former Luxemburg Prime Minister is something of a Marmite Man, admired and abhorred in equal measure.

It is not simply his messianic belief in the EU morphing into a United States of Europe that riles detractors; it’s rather that he’s the diplomatic equivalent of a Sherman tank, crushing dissenting voices and taking no prisoners.

And the nation at which Juncker targets most of his spleen is the UK, as his vitriolic speech to the 2005 EU parliament demonstrated.

In it, he singled out ‘Anglo-Saxon villainy’, asserting that any country standing in the way of ‘the future superstate’ was inspired by petty, squalid and immoral interests, while being ‘deaf to historic destiny’.

It was a reckless tirade, all the more stupid since it ignored every member state leader’s declared priority to pursue their ‘national interest.’

But Juncker has a reputation for loose-tongue faux pas – especially when primed by alcohol – never more tellingly than with his remark, ‘When the going gets tough, you have to lie.’

This notorious one-liner came in the wake of his forced resignation as Luxemburg’s premier, after an inquiry concluded that he turned a blind eye to rogue elements of the Grand Duchy’s security service spying on whoever they liked.

CHEERS TO JUNCKER: German's Merkel wants the Luxemburger to lead the new Commission

CHEERS TO JUNCKER: German’s Merkel wants the Luxemburger to lead the new Commission

Meanwhile, there’s also the taint of hypocrisy in Juncker being the first ‘chosen one’ – spitzenkandidat – from the floor of the EU parliament, since his take on democracy can verge on Stalinist.

When the French and Dutch famously voted against a European constitution, Juncker led calls for them to vote and vote again, until they bowed to his will. As it transpired, the Lisbon Treaty put paid to rebellion, since no member state bothered to hold it to a referendum, apart from Ireland, which was pressured into overturning an initial ‘No’ vote at the second time of asking.

Dubbed ‘a face from the past’ by Cameron, the wave of popularity that promised to sweep Juncker to the throne of Europe is now being undermined by many powerful voices, though Germany’s Angela Merkel remains a fervent fan.

However, that the largest bloc in the EU parliament lauds him is further testimony to its crass disregarded for the welling discontent fomenting across Europe.

In last month’s MEP elections, huge swathes of electors delivered a resounding message to the Brussels elite that they are riled to the point of revolt by the incompetence of EU decision-makers and, particularly, the impact of ill-conceived austerity.

As they voted far-Right and extreme Left in droves, Juncker’s vision of force-feeding more of the same, putrid medicine down their throats underlines the widening disconnect between the rulers and the ruled.

Cameron is clear he needs the Luxemburger like he yearns for a root canal filling minus anaesthetic. Others – particularly the reformist Dutch and Swedes – are similarly persuaded a Juncker presidency would be an unmitigated disaster and drive the electorate to further extremes.

The best-case scenario is that a compromise candidate is agreed between the national leaders and the EEP, so the name of Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Denmark’s moderate, centre-Left prime minister and Neil Kinnock’s daughter-in-law, is being loudly touted.

Whether common sense ever prevails where the EU is concerned is entirely another matter.