06/07/2012 03:52 BST | Updated 02/09/2012 06:12 BST

Let's Burn a Few Bankers

In the time honoured fashion, as it is when a community's prejudices clash with reality to produce uncertainty and fear, let's burn some witches and in so doing, expurgate our own sins. Or better still, let's be modern abut it and burn a few bankers instead. From politicians being economic with the actualité and less so with their expenses, to our guardians of the law accepting bribes from journalists in exchange for marketable tittle-tattle, public morals appear to be in free fall. And now we learn (what insiders have known for years) that our financial markets have become so distorted by complexity, crisis and our response to it, that LIBOR, the key interest rate that serves as a base for all others (the rate at which banks are supposed to be able to lend to each other), has become a massaged number so as to disguise the fact that at the height of the crisis banks would not lend to each other at any price.

Oh it's a mess alright, but while an occasional auto-da-fé might be exciting and cathartic, a little serious introspection is needed if we are to get back onto something approaching the rails. The truth is, we have all been at it: every one of us. "It" is to have what we want without much regard to the consequences. We have borrowed more than we should. We have repeatedly elected politicians who promise us things we know they can't deliver and in so doing have corrupted the democratic process. We have convinced ourselves that the state's largesse is bottomless, like grandma's purse, and that all we have to do is express a need for it to be met, forgetting completely that the wealth we squander has to be generated by hard work and intelligent enterprise. We have come to treat education as a branch of the social services and in so doing have made the pursuit of excellence all but impossible. We have allowed an underclass to develop that is utterly alien to the middle class whose liberal values it sees as being both hypocritical and self-serving. Truth, while never easy to identify, was once considered absolute but now is regarded as relative.

Historically, such decay has usually been followed by a flight to the extremes, be they fascist or communist it makes little difference. Decency and trust evaporate. Brutality and suspicion take their place. Men and women race to the bottom of the moral barrel and only from their collective degradation do they eventually start working for something better. Must we visit Dante's inferno before putting our house in order? I don't know. But burning a few bankers is not the answer. If the debate about Scotland and Europe's future continues to be cast in terms of half truths that are divorced from reality, purgatory will be our just dessert.