Monday, 3 November 2008

Only connect ....

In the 1690s the people of Scotland were encouraged to invest in a venture to set up a Scots colony in the isthmus of Panama that was guaranteed to make them all rich. A fleet of ships set off filled with new colonists and trade goods, and within a short time the whole Darien scheme collapsed. The people fell to disease, and the trade goods - linen underwear, wigs and bibles - though undoubtedly highly valued by the people of Scotland were scorned by potential traders. Scotland was bankrupt, and England bailing her out was an explicit condition for the 1707 treaty of Union. Ironically, the Bank of Scotland was used to receive the bail-out money from English taxpayers.

And it's the two Scottish banks, RBS and HBOS, that have again been most imprudent in this current scandal and again demand a bail-out by English taxpayers. And it doesn't end there. These banks are also the largest lenders to the world's collapsing shipping market, or the bulk goods and tanker fleet parts of it. Ports crowded with idle shipping don't make good news for the UK; half our food is imported, and while we're enjoying rock-bottom freight rates right now a halt to new shipbuilding will cause a shipping squeeze and higher food prices in the future.

When the Sony PS2 went into production, the world price of Tantalum, a metal used in making small capacitors, leapt from $49/lb to $275/lb. It's since reached as high as $400/lb. In the Congo, this caused thousands of schoolchildren to quit school and hordes of prostitutes to relocate.


Congo has some 80% of the world's known reserves, and though officially it produces only 1% of the Tantalum used on the international market, the unrecorded bulk of it thunders on huge trucks into Rwanda. Rwanda is a significant exporter of Tantalum. There is no Tantalum mined in Rwanda. The UN estimates that the Rwandan army makes up to $250 million a year from illegal sales of Congolese Tantalum.

The Tantalum in the Congo is illegally mined as an ore known locally as Coltan by thousands of men and boys digging in old river beds. The mining camps are rife with crime and disease, and HIV rates amongst the attendant prostitutes are high. The reason the Coltan beds are emptying the schools is simple; the average Congolese wage is $10 a month. A Coltan miner can earn from $10 - $50 a week.

The raw Coltan hits the coast and is loaded into ships for processing into Tantalum by one of only three plants in the world that can convert the raw material into a metal with a melting point of 3017º C; they are owned by Cabot Inc of the US, Germany's HC Starck and China's Nigncxia.

And if you're on your way into work on a train and reading the news about the Congo on an iPhone, or a Blackberry, or a Nokia the chances are you're holding Tantalum mined there, transported by a ship operated by a Greek and financed by RBS or HBOS, in which you're now a shareholder, but which only now exist because the Scots thought they could sell bibles, wigs and underpants to the world three hundred years ago.


Nick Drew said...

that globalisation, eh ?

William Gruff said...

It really is time that we wished the Jocks bon voyage.

Tim Worstall said...

You're a bit out with those Ta prices. About $270 a kg now. $120/130 a lb.

Anonymous said...

A great many Jocks have given their lives for this country, this United Kingdom, and continue to do so. Petulance and Little Englander self-importance merely focuses on the minute differences between the constituent nations of our cuontry while ignoring our shared values and our three hundred years of British achievements.

Scots, English, Welsh and Irish - united, we were the country that defined the world as it is today, the country that brought civilisation, the rule of law and market freedom to most of the world. We were the country that wiped slavery from the map of Africa, that in India stopped widow-burning and ended the rule of despots. We were the country that stood alone in the world against the might of Nazi Germany and defied them to the end, even when the American ambassador was predicting our capitulation.

The four nations of the UK have achieved nothing individually that comes close to what they achieved together. And, for the recored, the Bank of England was founded by a Scot, modern capitalism was defined by a Scot and the reason Scottish banks are still able to issue promissory notes while the English banks lost that right in the c19th is because Scottish banks, until recently, were held to be far more trustworthy than their English counterparts.

Now, shall we really get into these childish contests about who has the biggest dick or can we not just thank God Almighty that we were born British, beneath the British flag and the British crown, citizens of the country that created the modern world?

Nick Drew said...

as it happens, anon, I am with you (and I suspect most are, au fond)

when I was serving abroad in the Army it felt meaningful to be a Brit

(we all told the same jokes, had the same crap kit, and declined to salute when we didn't have our hats on)

Blue Eyes said...

It's the Jocks who started this anti-UK thing, though. You can't pin that on the "little Englanders".

Anonymous said...

It was the Labour Party that started this anti-UK thing. And they didn't start it in 1997 or even in 1987; they started it a generation ago when they refused to field candidates in Northern Ireland on the grounds that they were, like Sinn Fein, committed to a 32-county socialist Irish republic.

What I'm saying to you, as a Briton to other Britons, is that you can play this stupid blame game, you can call names, you can whine about the mean old Jocks stealing your money (and the mean old Sassenachs stealing your oil) or we can say no to the anti-UK attitude, say no to Labour and say a big fucking YES to the shared British values that once made our country the envy of the world and the powerhouse of innovation.

I hear Labour shouting their bullshit about Britishness and I hear the nationalists, on both sides of Hadrian's Wall and Offa's Dyke, shouting about their own parochial visions for racial purity. They all miss the point. The glory of our country is and always has been its diversity - the English, the Welsh, the Scots and the Irish: each with a distinct culture, a distinct language, a distinct history but all united by our love of liberty and our commitment to the power and importance of the individual citizen under the governance - but not rule - of an elected parliament.

You can make the choice to hate the Scots, whose fathers and grandfathers fought and bled and died beside yours for the same flag, or you can embrace the contributions that all four nations have made to this country and its history. Until we respect the long and honourable contributions made to our United Kingdom by all her people, by the Scots, English, Welsh and Irish too, we are doomed to see our country drift apart, just as happened to the Commonwealth dominions.

If you view this eventuality with happiness, if you embrace the dissolution of our union, if you really really truly believe that you will be better off in an independent England or Scotland or Wales, I hold you in contempt. I hold you in contempt for your blind tribal loyalties, your historical illiteracy and your betrayal of the blood sacrifice of all those Britons who have gone before.

Raedwald said...

Well, let me put on record that I would like to see the UK continue as currently constituted. However, that won't stop me having a few digs at the thin-skinned Scots. Or at windbag Welshmen. Or at ranting Ulstermen. Or indeed anyone who doesn't come from East Anglia. And even those West Suffolk people are a bit suspect. Ahem.

Are we supposed not to mention that it's two Scots banks that have gone tits-up costing each of us tens of thousands? Or that the Scots have something of a history of this sort of thing? As all of those brave Scots chaps you mention would have said "If you can't take a joke you shouldn't have joined".

Blue Eyes said...

Well if it's Labour's fault at the moment then it's the Scots fault! The English did not vote Labour at the last election!!!

Anonymous said...

(a) It is not only the Scots who voted Labour. You may be surprised to learn this but the majority of Labour MPs represent English seats.

(b) Northern Rock is Scottish? Since when?

(c) By all means have as much of a dig at anyone you please but adopting a holier-than-thou attitude because (in your mind) your shit doesn't stink doesn't exactly lend weight to the idea that you have a serious point to make.

(d) If the Scots have "a history of this sort of thing", so do the English - or are you not aware of the long series of bank runs that wrecked the English banking industry in the c19th (i.e. a wee bit more recently than the Darien scheme)?

(e) Trying to invent new differences and barriers between the four British nations is petty and merely feeds the separatists. We're in this together or we're not in it at all - and if you think that any of the four British nations has not contributed to our union, you are simply historically illiterate.

(f) Worthless fucking Jocks: