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Who knows what may lie ahead?

by
01 June 2015, at 12:00am

THE MERCURY COLUMN in which a guest columnist takes the temperature of the profession – and the world around

THERE is an oddly surreal feeling in writing something before the election knowing that, when you read this a week or two later, all will be revealed and the strangest electoral campaign in living memory will be a done deal and a thing of the past.

Of course, whoever will have won – assuming that a clear winner is numerically possible this time – will have to deal with a rising national debt and, one way or another, general taxes will have to rise or public services be more drastically reduced; both results which, in the pre-election euphoria, were eschewed by all parties.

Either option would unseat the public finances and would lead to further political turmoil even before the new Government had found out where to sit.

Left or right?

If we have moved left, politically, the promises made would presage massive tax increases for institutions such as banks and big companies and the proposed tax cuts for the low paid and to home-owners will not happen.

If we have moved right of centre, those tax cuts will happen but the highest paid will be paying more and that raises the spectre of a serial disembarkment for those in the highest tax bracket, leading to a permanent loss of significant income for the Treasury.

However, a coalition may have come about and we might be faced with a strong Scottish counterbalance, with all the attendant fears which that conjures up, or a more extreme right influence by what is likely to be a small number of UKIP MPs but which will have inevitably cost both major parties votes and weakened the influence and operational capabilities of both.

Fascinating times for most of us but not, it would appear, many of the nation’s 18-24 year olds who, if the polls are to be believed, consider themselves to be disenfranchised and therefore disengaged from the whole electoral process.

In the last four weeks leading up to this event, one could be forgiven for thinking they may have a point but then most sensible people understand that if you don’t bother to find out, you’re unlikely to appear as a potential suitor to any political party in a classic chicken-and-egg situation.

A perfect platform

It also draws attention to the art of generalisation which provides a perfect platform for the media and a useful tool for the political parties but, in this case, the truth may be more to do with culture, background and intelligence than chronological age.

Certainly, in the Scottish referendum when voting was opened up to 16 year olds, their level of engagement was very high indeed but perhaps that was an issue where the collective heart was already pre-engaged even before the opportunity to vote was offered.

For so many Scots living in the UK but outside Scotland, the idea of a nationalist landslide is a two-edged Claymore.

On the one hand, it would be an unusual person living outside the south-east of England who didn’t feel that the distribution of wealth and opportunity was too centred on a single region and might therefore welcome the opportunity to shake up a sclerotic and apparently privileged political system.

On the other, it worries many of us that over-enthusiastic rhetoric from Scotland’s numerous representatives in Westminster could run the risk of alienating the whole of England and achieving the dissolution of the UK through the back door – although the expression is entirely wrong as a large number of Scottish nationalists operating openly and legitimately in Westminster would, ironically, mean that the system that they were hell-bent on changing would have been the one that not only led them through the front door but also gave them the keys to the wine cellar.

I, for one, don’t ever want to be reluctant to admit to where I come from but, if the nationalists in Westminster get this wrong, not only could it drive a wedge between Scotland and England but it could also set the hares running across Europe with nationalist groups from as far apart as Norway, Russia, Italy and Portugal all watching eagerly for a masterclass in how to upset the constitutional status quo.

To say that Catalonia is waiting with bated breath would be a cosmic understatement.

And then there’s what happens – correction, what will already have happened – with Greece and its ability to meet the repayment requirements of the Eurozone.

In this strangely suspended period leading up to the witching hours of the complex repayment schedules that Greece has to make on the day I’m writing this, and in the next two weeks following that, it’s a luxury to be able to anticipate a number of different outcomes.

A month later and, one imagines, the die will have been cast with both Greece and Europe already living with one of those outcomes.

This is oddly like asking someone who has died to come back and tell you what’s ahead for us all – with roughly the same chance of success.

Potentially disastrous ramifications

So what does lie ahead for the man or woman in the street? We fool ourselves if we become too disengaged from the outcomes and concentrate too much on the process.

This time, if a single party achieves power without the need for coalition, it may not last very long in Government and that could have disastrous ramifications on public services, inward investment and public confidence.

A good coalition could lead to a series of resolute actions to address the fiscal shortfall but that would also come at the expense of normal taxpayers and, as Allister Heath wrote recently in The Daily Telegraph, “When taxes on the rich don’t bring in as much as expected, desperate governments are always faced with the same choice: either cut spending or tax the rest of the public more heavily. Nobody ever wins from class warfare, least of all the poor and middle class.”

Within the veterinary arena, it will be intriguing to see if the main parties’ electoral promises on animal welfare issues ever see daylight but there is one glimmer of hope here: as Scotland and Wales are both streets ahead of England in their level of engagement and speed of action on a number of animal welfare issues, a wider representation of nationalist MPs in Westminster just might alter the climate sufficiently to bring England up to parity.

If nothing else, that would be worthwhile. Where we will end up on the thorny issue of bovine TB is anyone’s guess.