Is the economy finally recovering? This is the question everyone has been trying to answer this week, reading the latest statistics like tea leaves in the bottom of the nation’s teacup.There are several good signs. Retail spending is up 4 per cent on last year, unemployment is down to 7.2 per cent, purchasing mangers report growth in both manufacturing and services, and our exports should benefit from the Euro zone coming out of recession.
But there are worrying signs too. House prices are still falling, the rise in employment is due to part-time work and older people staying on in employment because their pensions are being eroded by inflation. And real wages have fallen by 5 per cent since 2010.…one of the worst falls in Europe.
It’s hard to tell whether we are reaching the end of the years of famine or not. It’s particularly difficult living in Edinburgh where the festivals are in full swing and the theatres, pubs and restaurants are crammed with high-paying customers.
Out in the countryside, the harvest is rolling in, though yields of some crops may not be so good because, according to a study by Strathclyde University, we lost around a third of our bee population last year. Farmers are putting in long hours while the good weather lasts.One poor farmer in Aberdeenshire was killed in a combine harvester accident as he was still working away at 8 o’clock in the evening. On the grouse moors though, the “Glorious Twelfth” was celebrated with the prospect of a bumper season.
Believe it or not, it is time for the schools to return to work. They do so as a survey comes out from the London School of Economics showing that Scottish pupils are not performing any better than they did before devolution in 1999. This compares to an increase in standards in England.
Disappointing, but the analysts agree that perhaps they are not comparing like with like. What seems to be beyond doubt however is that there has been no surge in performance as a result of devolution and there is still a huge gap in attainment between schools in rich and poor areas.This week we got another opinion poll on independence. The Ipsos Mori poll found that 44 per cent of Scots are still undecided, so there is still everything to play for, especially in deprived areas of central Scotland. It shows a surprising number of people saying they are certain to vote in the referendum next year, 56 per cent. And of those, 33 per cent said they will vote for independence.
The pro-Union campaign lost one of it mighty warriors this week, David McLetchie, the former Conservative Party leader, who died of cancer at the age of 61. The tributes paid to him included phrases like: he saved the Conservative Party from wipe-out in Scotland; he had a lawyer’s ability to take someone’s argument apart; he was hugely sociable; he enjoyed his family, his golf and his karaoke.
He also enjoyed his football. Unfortunately he did not live to see Scotland’s exciting performance against England at Wembley on Wednesday night. It was 3:2 for England but what a sparkling match ! It was the first time for 14 years that the Tartan Army had taken over Trafalgar Square and this time, despite the 10,000 beer cans left behind, there was no trouble. Perhaps we are learning to enjoy the company of the auld enemy. It’s only taken a thousand years.