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Trump agreement more trade truce than trade deal

Juncker and Trump

Agreement: Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Trump


Brian Monteith portraitLove him or loathe him, President Trump has confounded his critics and pulled off another diplomatic coup, this time, of all things, by fixing a deal with the Jean-Claude Juncker of the European Union.

Just as the UK is leaving the EU and the talk is of getting a trade deal with the US – our largest export destination worth £107bn last year – the EU and US have done a deal already. What can we take from this?

Well, like so many things surrounding President Trump, not all is as at it seems. Firstly, this is not so much a trade deal as a trade truce; an accommodation by both sides to amend current trading arrangements under the WTO. This is no TTIP, the highly detailed and legally binding Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership that Obama was pushing and caused so much opposition that it drove many Labour voters to vote Leave.

The agreement between European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and Trump means the US wins increased soybean and liquefied gas exports to the EU, and Trump’s proposed car tariffs are dropped while US tariffs on steel and aluminium are discussed. 

Secondly, it proves beyond doubt that while Trump is no diplomat and certainly not a politician with a coherent philosophy, he is a deal maker. He lives for the deal, he believes everything can be fixed by a deal, and he has, for now, sorted a trade imbalance between the EU and US. Of course, it also means that if the EU welches on the deal he will come back for more. Expect further demands in the run up to Trump’s campaign for a second term. 

That Trump would be better at bargaining a Brexit deal than Theresa May is now beyond question. The real question we face is who could and should be our own Trump?


We need to return to an age of reason 

Scotland can take a great deal of credit for the period we know as the ‘enlightenment’ – that time when philosophers and people with insatiable curiosity sought to discover why we behave in certain ways and how things worked.  

It was a time of reason, where, especially in Edinburgh and Glasgow, there were many dining clubs and drinking dens that spent all their time debating to establish the truth. Surely as we look to where Scotland’s future should lie; inside or outside the United Kingdom or the European Union; with more or less regulation and higher or lower taxes; we need to establish facts and debate which assumptions hold water and others leak like a sieve? 

The recent publication of the SNP’s Growth Commission report was therefore a step in the right direction as it left behind the now discredited Scottish Government White Paper that helped Alex Salmond lose his independence referendum and offered a new business case that could be tested to hypothetical destruction.

After the initial flurry of warm words for the body of work it represented and an apparently realistic acknowledgement of Scotland’s horrendous public finances the Growth Commission report was taken to task by a variety of economists and commentators (including this author) for alleged flaws. A welcome debate had commenced.

This week the businessman, political blogger and supporter of the UK, Kevin Hague, published a detailed response to the Growth Commission paper on the website These Islands he helped establish. Rather than consider his evidence or arguments SNP politicians dismissed his work as that of a “dog food salesmen” because his successes include a pet supplies business.  

If Scotland is to leave behind its recent bitter divisions it must rediscover our age of reason, we must engage with each other and debate claims and counter-claims to establish the truth – not degenerate into childish name-calling that demeans us all.

More ideas needed

 Why are there so few policy think tanks in Scotland? Why is there so little output from those that do exist? Why is there so little spark and creativity in Scottish politics? 

The state of political discourse in Scotland is lamentable.  Rather than come up with new ideas too many of our politicians simply recycle old failed policies and give them a new branding. In Holyrood it is often enough just to put the word “Scottish” at the front of a “new” organisation and leave it at that. 

We can be better than this.

We also seem to enjoy too often playing the man rather than the ball. Any idea that may have once been on the back of a Tories fag packet is dismissed because it was a Tories’ fag packet, not because it was a fag packet.

We can be better than this too.

I believe this is bad for business because it means that we are do not appreciate enough the creativity and innovation required to start up new enterprises, we run down risk taking and showing leadership. Anyone who pops their head up above the parapet will take pelters – so people are afraid to be vocal and share their thoughts.

The way around this is for more business people to put money into think tanks that encourage new ideas, that promote debate and give platforms for people to show leadership.

It is said of Churchill in WWII that there were two problems, the first was he had a dozen ideas before lunchtime of which only four would be any good; the second problem was identifying which four. 

We need more people thinking up ideas and talking about them and businesses need to encourage that in Scotland by sponsoring such creativity and leadership.

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