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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Forget out-UKIPing UKIP – play up the plus side of immigration instead

ACCORDING to my doctor, there are two sorts of cholesterol: the goody variety, HDL, which makes us purr like a Rolls-Royce, and naughty LDL, which clogs up the blood vessels of those with a lusty appetite for animal fats.

Likewise, there are two, principle types of immigration: talented, educated incomers, who help make the host nation richer, and those at the fag-end of the earning scale, who do the low-skilled, heavy-lifting.

Like it or not, every post-modern economy need a dollop of each, from degree-burnished graduates to oil the gears of industry, the professions and City, to those who’ll serve minimum-wage hard time in jobs beneath the dignity of work-shy locals, like the 100 Hungarians to be employed by sandwich-maker Greencore in Northampton.

But how much of each commodity is tolerable is the question driving politicians across the industrialised West to distraction.

In the USA a debate rages about President Obama’s call to decriminalise ‘wetback’ illegals – ‘wetbacks’ because they crossed the Rio Grande to reach their promised land – while Europe wrestles with porous borders inflicted by the Schengen Agreement.

Meanwhile, Calais’s mayor chides Britain for having a benefit system so generous that’s it turned the drab Channel port into a magnet for stateless Asians and Africans, looking to hitch an illicit ride to Dover.

Hardly surprising, then, immigration has become the most emotive of buzzwords and a dark spectre haunting the UK’s 2015 general election.

MANY HAPPY RETURNS: Party boss Nigel Farage (left) congratulates Mark Reckless on his return to parliament - as UKIP's second MP

MANY HAPPY RETURNS: Party boss Nigel Farage (left) congratulates Mark Reckless on his comeback to parliament – as UKIP’s second MP

Predictably, it once again played into the UK Independence Party’s clutches in Thursday’s Rochester by-election, when Tory defector, Mark Reckless, reclaimed his old seat to become the archly anti-EU party’s second MP, after Douglas Carswell held Clacton.

Whether Nigel Farage’s purple bandwagon gathers further momentum by next May 7 is a matter of intense debate.

What’s clear, though, is UKIP’s anti-politics populism strikes a chord with a section of the electorate heartily disaffected with the snotty Westminster elite’s belief it rules by divine right.

Meanwhile, as Clacton and now Rochester has proven, even rabid Tory Euro sceptics are realising it’s a waste of hustings time trying to outstrip UKIP’s Little Englander agenda.

And Labour’s latest wheeze, newly unveiled by shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, is one of the feeblest attempts yet at playing to the gallery’s fears about Johnny Foreigner.

After months of inertia and leader Ed Miliband’s ratings plummeting like a thermometer outside an igloo, the party that opened the floodgates to unfettered immigration is now calling for Britain’s border police to be boosted by 1,000 extra personnel.

This, says Cooper, can be funded by charging a £10 ‘entrance fee’ to incomers. Except – as the Home Office was delighted to enlighten her – thanks to the European Union’s visa-waiver scheme, the moolah raised will hire just 59 immigration cops.

MENTAL ARITHMETIC: Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, discovers Labour's immigration sums don't add up

MENTAL ARITHMETIC: Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, discovers Labour’s immigration sums don’t add up

Similarly inane is Labour’s plan to stop migrants claiming benefits until they’ve been in Britain for two years, not the current ceiling of three months.

This, of course, would require an EU treaty change, by which time piglets will take off from Heathrow’s tenth runway, alongside the usual procession of Jumbos.

What gets forgotten, overlooked and ignored, however, is that the great immigration debate in Britain is several centuries old and every wave – from Farage’s French Huguenot, lace-making ancestors to Irish navvy canal-builders, Jewish tailors and West Indian NHS recruits – met with vehement hostility before they melted into the fabric of British society.

Even Enoch Powell, UKIP’s spiritual godfather and best remembered for his notorious, 1968 anti-immigration ‘rivers of blood’ speech, once played a leading role in wooing Commonwealth citizens to settle in the UK to fill staff shortages in the health and public transport sectors.

Today, UKIP is banging Powell’s drum and giving a disingenuous, one-dimensional picture of greedy, grasping, benefit-scrounging foreigners – of which there are undoubtedly an untold number – for whom Britain is a land of give and take…the nation gives and they take.

And this demi-truth is resonating, especially in deprived areas where immigration has had a detrimental impact on housing, schooling and jobs, because successive governments have serially failed for decades to heed the warning signs.

Only now has their folly been rumbled and the three major parties – that’s if the Lib-Dems still qualify as one – are playing catch-up, though they don’t stand a snowball in Hades’ chance of out-UKIPing UKIP.

However, obscured by Farage’s scare tactics is a multi-faceted image of immigration, one in which business cries out for talent that can only be sources from abroad and industries, like farming, which needs minimum-wage labour to bring in crops that defy automated harvesting.

The recent report from University College London (UCL), then, makes uneasy reading for the anti-EU, anti-immigration lobby, because rather than draining Britain’s exchequer, European migrants made a net contribution of £20bn to it between 2000 and 2011.

UKIP GODFATHER: The late Enoch Powell - famed for his notorious 'rivers of blood' speech - was responsible for a wave of immigration into Britain

UKIP GODFATHER: The late Enoch Powell – famed for his notorious ‘rivers of blood’ speech – was responsible for a wave of immigration into Britain

If there is a downside, don’t blame the Czech nannies, Spanish nurses or Polish plumbers drawn to the UK because of high unemployment in their own states, but non-EU migrants who, according to UCL, cost Britain £120bn in 1995-2011.

Even this huge sum, though, should be put into context, because it’s dwarfed by UK nationals, who cost the country £591bn over the same time frame.

So, at the risk of sounding neo-liberal, I suggest that much of what Farage peddles is selective twaddle as he and his mavericks ride a wave of xenophobia on a balloon of hot air.

That in no way diminish the glaring fact that the putrid edifice of the EU – not its peoples – is in drastic need of reform and there should be no further empire-building by an unelected commission and its clique of Europrats, who mainly serve no useful purpose but their own.

Prime Minister David Cameron has vowed to renegotiate Britain’s terms of EU membership and put them to a referendum in 2017 should he be re-elected next spring.

If Europe’s leaders ignore his rational arguments Britain will quit, UKIP will be cock-a-hoop and parties beyond the EU’s fringe – especially France’s far-Right National Front – will be further embolden to copycat Farage.

So UKIP’s second by-election win on the spin spells trouble not just for the UK’s political elite, but for all those at the helm of every nation in Europe.

Brussels take note…and beware.

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.

If Obama doesn’t want to be remembered as President Pushover he has to act NOW!

ANYONE got a strategy? Because they’re been hunting all over the White House for one. Either someone can’t remember where they filed it or nothing has yet magically emerged from Barack Obama’s gazing into his navel.

In actuality, the president fesses up to the latter predicament. When it comes to dealing with the barbarous jihadis of IS – the Islamic State formerly known as ISIS or ISIL – his legendary intellect is out to lunch or on the golf course, where he prefer to spend time nowadays.

Apart from pleading perplexity, Obama validates his inertia, saying, ‘You don’t play whack-a-mole wherever these terrorist organisations may pop up.’

That sentiment chimes with the recall of former US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.

Chronicling her time in office in her recent memoir, Hard Choices, she said Obama’s pro-isolationist foreign policy was, in his words: ‘Don’t do stupid sh*t’ (or, in polite conversation, substitute ‘stuff’ for excrement).

As the woman who could become America’s first female head of state noted witheringly, ‘Great nations need organising principles and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organising principle.’

And neither are IS your average bunch of Islamo-fascist headbangers. With hi-tech US weaponry seized from the Iraqi army, they’ve already carved out a tranche of Syria and Iraq the size of Britain and proclaimed it a Sharia ‘caliphate’, slaughtering thousands of Christians, Yazidis and anyone else who disagrees with their warped worldview.

From ransoms – France is said to have paid $58M, Switzerland $12.4 and Spain $11M – bank robberies, taxes and extortion IS has amassed a war chest of $2-billion they intend to use to reconquer all former Muslim lands, from the Balkans to Andalusia and including pseudo-secular Turkey.

STRATEGY SEEKERS: Obama and Cameron ponder the IS threat at the recent NATO summit

STRATEGY SEEKERS: Obama and Cameron ponder the IS threat at the recent NATO summit

With at least 500 Britons in their ranks and more Europeans queuing to join the carnival of carnage, intelligence sources have no doubt IS poses a clear and present danger to the West. It is, they say, only a matter of time before battle-hardened jihadis drift back home and wreak havoc.

Meanwhile, as the waiting continues for the tumblers in Obama’s brain to clunk into place, the free world must kick its heels, festering – or apoplectic, as his generals are reported to be – and hoping against hope no more Westerners are decapitated, as journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff were so gruesomely slain.

However, midway into his final term in office, Obama remains as gung-no as his predecessor, G ‘Dubya’ Bush, was gung-ho. Yet, as history testifies, neither formulated coherent foreign policies to deal with the charnel house that’s the Middle East.

Obama insists he was elected to extricate America and its allies from conflicts and, in 2008 when he first won election, the war-weary West was grateful to hail a leader who vowed to close the book on military adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mainly due to IS atrocities and the dread of what may follow, the public mood is shifting from indifference to belligerence, even if the world’s most powerful commander-in-chief – a tag that sits uncomfortably with Obama’s peacenik default setting – doesn’t see it.

ON THE MARCH: Fighters from IS already control a huge swathe of Iraq and Syria

ON THE MARCH: Fighters from IS already control a huge swathe of Iraq and Syria

True, he’s sent a squadron of fighter jets to hamper IS progress and is arming the Kurds, albeit with pretty unsophisticated Eastern European hardware, as they manfully defend their stronghold in northern Iraq against the barbarians at their gates.

Shamefully, that’s the current extent of Obama’s bellicosity, even if he does warn, ‘Those who make the mistake of harming Americans will learn that we will not forget, and that our reach is long and that justice will be served.’

Sticks and stones, Mr. President. And we’ve heard your vacuous sabre-rattling before, apropos the ‘red line’ threat to obliterate the chemical weapons arsenal of Syria’s Bashar Assad, but which the Demon of Damascus continues to use on the sly.

The plain, if unpalatable truth is that from Day 1 of his Oval Office tenure, Obama has never put a foot right in the Middle East, the planet’s most viciously volatile region and he’s daily exposed as President Pushover for his indecision and ineptitude.

And, much as I take no pleasure in repeating it, a year ago I wrote here, ‘After seeing the hope that began as the Arab Spring lurch into an Islamic Winter and now a serial bloodbath, what is not required is a vacillating, over-conciliatory, moralising poseur, who talks the talk but patently fails to walk the walk.

Under Obama, Iraq has fragmented into its component parts, the Shia government’s authority extending little further than Baghdad, while only the plucky Kurds withstand the scourge of IS.

After three years of grisly civil war, over 200,000 deaths and two million made refugees, Syria is a multi-dimensional bloodbath, though the loathsome Assad regime remains in situ, propped up by an unholy alliance of Russia, Iran and Hezbollah.

Meanwhile, Libya – where US Ambassador, Chris Stevens, was murdered by Islamic fanatics in 2012 – is ungovernable, as tribal factions compete to grab the oil wealth.

And Obama trying to arm-twist Israel, the only sane nation in the region, to stomach the demands of Hamas’s terrorist thugs only resulted in exposing the White House’s emissary, John Kerry, as a diplomatic dunce.

Though by far not the last piece in the mangled Middle East jigsaw, much against Obama’s wishes the army stopped Egypt becoming another Sharia paradise by toppling the Muslim Brotherhood, even if it was victorious in a travesty posing as a democratic election.

Fast forwarding to last week’s NATO summit in Wales, topping the agenda of the 28 member states was Russia’s incursion – invasion more like it – of Ukraine and Afghanistan’s future, following the withdrawal of all foreign troops by the end of 2014.

It was also patently clear the heat was on a equivocating American leader to find a strategy to crush IS.

Hence Obama’s sounding out UK Prime Minister David Cameron on transforming the RAF’s recce sorties over Iraq into strike missions, though that isn’t likely to happen unless British MPs agree it.

So, as the clock ticks down on his reign, the 44th US President faces being remembered as the man whose dithering made the world a far more dangerous place.

Only if he finds the will – and a strategy – to act decisively can he avoid that ignominy.

Obama needs to do that now. Dilly-dallying any longer will be too late.

Why the West’s Muslims must lead the fight against the enemy within

THE video – filmed somewhere in Iraq or Syria – is beyond gruesome as it begins with journalist, James Foley, kneeling impassively before a knife-wielding man garbed in black, like a ninja assassin, a ski-mask covering his face.

Moments later the 40 year-old US reporter, who went missing two years ago, is beheaded in what his captors blandly described as an ‘execution’.

Another American newsman, Steven Sotloff, who went missing in Syria, is facing a similarly grim fate, as are up to 20 other Westerners, who have disappeared in the Middle East.

Whether you believe in capital punishment or not – I don’t, but that’s a debate for another day – this was anything but an ‘execution’.

Foley’s decapitation was an act of unspeakable barbarity; a celebration of butchery carried out by a piece of scum who desecrates the title: ‘human being’

The slaughterer said he was ‘sending a message to America’, the fabled Great Satan of Islamo-fascism’s warped mythology.

Meanwhile, to add further shock to the horror show is news that the killer speaks with a distinctive London accent and is said to be called ‘John’.

There’s no doubt Brits are among the homicidal filth parading under the black banner of the Islamic State (IS), formerly known as ISIS or ISIL, with Western intelligence sources estimating their number as high as 600.

Apparently, they are also the most bloodthirsty and take huge delight in their grisly handiwork.

VIDEO NASTY: The IS thug identified in some media outlets as a Brit named 'John', prepared to behead US journo, James Foley

VIDEO NASTY: The IS thug identified in some media outlets as a Brit named ‘John’, prepared to behead US journo, James Foley

A 16-year-old girl from the Midlands recently tweeted a photo of herself against a backdrop of severed heads, while a dead IS fighter was identified as English by his Liverpool Football Club season ticket and another by his membership card from an Ealing, West London, gym.

So, I’d wager, somewhere in Britain an impressionable kid, perhaps from a decent, god-fearing, Anglo-Asian family, will have seen the monstrous clip online and thought, ‘Hey, that’s cool and I want to be part of it, to fight, kill and die, if necessary, for the cause.’

Precisely what cause justifies such evil, perverted lunacy is beyond all comprehension. Equally so is the reason why some Muslim teens, brought up with all the advantages and values the UK provides, are drawn to it, like the student from Bristol, who chose IS, jihad and killing over studying medicine to save, not take lives.

What the cause demands, though, is chillingly transparent and intended to be delivered in stage payments of savagery.

IS is on a genocidal roll, proclaiming a Sharia ‘caliphate’ across the huge swathe of Iraq and Syria it now controls, where the bloodiest excesses of medieval cruelty are visited upon any man, woman or child who won’t embrace their fanatical take on Sunni Islam.

Hence, the spate of beheadings, disembowelments and crucifixions, the stonings to death and burials alive of minority unbelievers – including toddlers and women, who, if not murdered, are taken as sex slaves – like Christians and Yazidis, refusing to renounce ancient faiths that predate Islam.

The Kurds, Muslims whom IS considers heretics, currently stand as a bulwark against the advancing horde. But, lacking the hi-tech American weaponry IS filched from a craven Iraqi army in hasty retreat, tough Kurdish Peshmerga militia are left fighting a see-saw battle against an implacable foe.

Which is why even that most dovish of US presidents, Barack Obama, has been forced to send in fighter jets – supported by RAF planes, acting as ‘eyes in the skies’ – to curb what seems like an inexorable IS advance.

However, we are witnessing only phase one of the fanatics’ master plan.

Through its brotherhood of terror, IS’s aim is to extend the ‘caliphate’ westward and – mimicking Osama Bin Laden, whose Al-Qaeda cutthroats seem pussycats in comparison – its manifesto includes the return of Andalucía, formerly the Moorish province of El Andaluz.

Last week four civilians were found murdered in Egypt’s Sinai desert, their headless corpses the hallmark of IS, and its henchmen are said to be operating alongside Hamas in Gaza.

FLAG OF HATE: Copycat versions of IS's hideous black flag are said to have been flown in London and elsewhere in Europe

FLAG OF HATE: Copycat versions of IS’s hideous black flag are said to have been flown in London and elsewhere in Europe

In the harshest reality check so far from a European leader, UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, warned, ‘The West is embroiled in a generational struggle against a poisonous brand of Islamic extremism that will bring terror to the streets of Britain unless urgent action is taken to defeat it.’

Cameron predicted the struggle will last ‘the rest of my political lifetime,’ adding, ‘The creation of an extremist caliphate in the heart of Iraq and extending into Syria is not a problem miles away from home…it is our concern here and now.

‘Because if we do not act to stem the onslaught of this exceptionally dangerous terrorist movement, it will only grow stronger until it can target us on the streets of Britain. We already know that it has the murderous intent.’

Cameron’s warning, though, maybe too late: IS’s tentacles already snake into Europe, where copycat versions of its dastardly flag have been unfurled in pro-Hamas demonstrations in France, Germany, Holland and the UK.

Meanwhile, an estimated 260 IS thugs are said to have already returned to Britain, some vowing to raise the black standard over Big Ben.

And therein lies Britain’s dilemma. Because, in common with the rest of Europe where there are large, Muslim minorities, the nation is now in the front line of potential terror attacks from an enemy within.

Porous borders, an undermanned frontier security force and police intimidated by accusations of Islamophobia don’t instil confidence, either.

But, mindful of the harm being done to Islam’s image, moderates in the UK’s Muslim community have now said they will assist anti-terrorism officers in identifying those in their midst who harbour only hatred for the country that nurtured them.

Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation, said, ‘We are ready to support the police and intelligence agencies in their work to defeat terrorism and protect our nation.’

Those are wise and welcome words.

Because Britain’s population of approximately 3,000,000 Muslims, which can be very vocal when it wants to be, needs to stand up and be counted upon as never before in the war against the most evil scourge to plague the world since Nazism.