Six things from the last few weeks you should be really angry about

Forget Snowden.

For those people who prefer to live their lives in a state of permanent opposition to pretty much everything, Edward Snowden’s decision to leak classified information through The Guardian newspaper about US and UK government internet surveillance techniques has been manna from heaven. No matter the rights and wrongs of Snowden’s actions it keeps the idea going that there is another ‘Watergate’ moment out there if only we could find it.

But to me, if you really do want to live your life in a perpetual state of internet-based emotional froth, then there is plenty enough truly shocking information out there, released every day, to have you bouncing up and down on your chosen hand-held or desk-based device whilst punching the air and exclaiming "I told you so!!!!" without you necessarily having to go down the road of believing that the moon landings were fake. 

So here are six things from the past two weeks you should really be puce with indignation about, but probably aren’t.

  1. Venezuela is falling to pieces Inflation is nearly 50 per cent, driven mainly by food prices, and President Nicholas Maduro is slipping back into old school South American Marxist language. ‘Yankees go home’ he proclaimed in a television broadcast last week. Rich Venezuelans have reacted to the lack of US dollars by going to the US and borrowing currency on credit cards and bringing it home to buy goods. The economic chaos is worsening as Venezuela increases its dependence on oil – a suicidal policy in itself.  But it is the urban poor who have been hit hardest as food prices rocket. The last time this happened, in 1989, 2,000 people died in the ensuing "Caracazo".
  2. Follow the Yellen Brick Road Job creation in the US is trundling along at a predictable pace and by the end of April 2014, at the current trajectory, all of the jobs lost in the 2007-2008 melt down will have been regained. Should Janet Yellen survive the process of becoming the Chair of the Federal Reserve then her first task may be to consider whether to signal the end of US pump priming known as Quantitative Easing. It may have already occurred by then of course but given the appalling mess that the Fed made of their last attempt to test the water in the disastrous May/July period this year, sending mortgage interest rates up by 1.5 per cent and stopping bank lending in its tracks, you would expect them to be a bit clearer next time.
  3. The financial crisis has moved to its fourth stage It started in personal finances, moved into the banks, caused local government to contract and now finally it is reaching national governments. Watching the US go through the ritualised partisan wrangling over increasing the debt ceiling reminds us that the loudest echoes of the financial crisis have not faded, we have just been deafened to them. This new form of democracy – one with a gun to its own head – seems to be saying "Give me what I want or I’ll shoot" to the financial markets. One day someone will miscalculate and this will go very wrong. 
  4. The markets are calmer when there is no information being released It’s been rather pleasant doing this job in the past couple of weeks. Days go by and nothing major happens because many of the data gathering and releasing departments in the US are shut. Stock markets, bond markets and currencies still move but with nothing like the ferocity seen in the past. It is a reminder of how reactionary markets and news sensitive the system has become. It almost feels like an argument to reduce news flow rather ‘increase transparency’ which is the modern mantra and one that appears to do little but "increase anxiety".
  5. Help to Buy has nothing to do with helping people to buy houses The UK needs another housing bubble like it needs a hole in the head. The fact is the UK banking system is shrinking and no capitalist system based on borrowed money can propel itself without a fully functioning banking system. If you add together the outstanding loans of Barclays, the Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds then you can see that although deposits continue to rise, the value of loans is declining. To be fully functioning, systems like ours need both trust and confidence which just so happen to be the two major ingredients missing from our society. Help to Buy is a psychological scheme designed to get people back into the idea of borrowing money from banks.
  6. The Bank account of China swelled to USD3.7trn last month Whilst we have been tightening our belts as part of the latest of our episodic crises, China has continued on with its 30-year plan.  Their collective bank account swelled by another $165bn last month. UK Chancellor George Osborne has announced he is going to relax visa application rules to make it easier for Chinese visitors to come to the UK  - you can understand why given our own collective bank account is empty.

I shall now return to my hollowed out volcano somewhere in the South Pacific to discuss the future with John F Kennedy, Jimmy Hoffer and Lord Lucan and hope the US and UK governments aren’t hacking my router. It would be embarrassing to know they can see me catching up on "Strictly – it takes two’".

Photograph: Getty Images

Head of Fixed Income and Macro, Old Mutual Global Investors

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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