Patience…

When I first realised I was badly overdrawn at the bank, I was only a kid and a month away from getting married. £50 in the red (it said in my little bank book – remember them?) and I went as red as the account. It was a disaster requiring immediate and painful remedial action – meeting with manager, agreed overdraft, short-term loan and hurt feelings.

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Then I had to ask a fundamental question: How did I get into this mess in the first place? Who’s fault was it? What went wrong? That produced a whole litany of retrospectively obvious answers involving beer, Gitanes, Fred’s steak lunches at the Jinglin’ Geordie in Fleshmarket Close and a wilful refusal ever to check the state of the account.

As I tried to sort it out, I had the light bulb moment that if I wanted a balanced account, I wouldn’t start from here; I wouldn’t have allowed myself to get into debt if I’d been cleverer…I should have been counting my pennies and keeping better company.

My boozy lunches and hollowed out account came to mind when I read the headlines from the GERS report showing Scotland with a public spending deficit of £12bn.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-31831857

Oops…That’s hefty whatever our tax-raising capacity – and that’s considerably higher per head than the UK by £400 – but the national overdraft is what makes headlines because voters don’t like debt, especially if it looks cripplingly high with doubts about repaying and the near-certain prospect of it getting worse next year (when more oil price drops kick in).

No surprise then that the national leader (UK branch) Alistair Carmichael, remember him, immediately pounced to proudly declare that this proved Scotland was incapable of surviving without London’s money. Thanks, Al. It’s the resolute way you champion Scotland’s corner that makes you and your party so popular.

These are figures produced by the SNP government, not fiddled by our chums in the Treasury who give Danny Alexander his winning lines to read. They are a true reflection of the current state of the national bank account. (Although, I have to say I’m never convinced about what is attributed to Scotland and what is left out in the minutiae of actuarial alchemy the UK uses but there we are…we have to live with it.)

Proportionately, the deficit is higher than the UK’s which is scary enough and last time it was this high, Britain had to beg for help from the IMF http://www.debtbombshell.com/britains-budget-deficit.htm

We’re going through a rocky time and hoping that there will be surge in oil prices before March 24 next year isn’t going to cut it. So the baiting over the public finances will continue – albeit ironic on a titanic scale, given the UK’s fiscal desert. Does it matter?

Well the answer is Yes, if you’re politically active and either devise attacks on the SNP or if, from the other side, you have to defend independence. There are answers but it’s a struggle…a bit like me wheedling to the bank manager that a pint of Tennents had gone up to 17p a pint.

But in truth the answer is No, it doesn’t really matter at all. First, because the independence option was knocked from the chessboard by the referendum result, therefore the question of how Scotland’s economy would cope separately has become in that sense academic. The SNP believes in independence but is campaigning for Home Rule, in effect. It is sending a cohort of MPs to Westminster not to negotiate independence – sorry, the break-up Britain – but to ‘hold their feet to the fire’ so they deliver a worthwhile deal for the Scots.

It is, though part of the argument around fiscal autonomy and continuing Barnett and the rest. But having Unionists bang on about a theoretical Scottish deficit only emphasises how they’re stuck in referendum mode and can’t get over it.

The second reason it doesn’t matter is that the independence movement is driven not by profit and loss accounting but by belief. That’s right – Alice in Wonderland, Yellow Brick Road, airy-fairy, unrealistic David Torrance Fantasy Politics.

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Or, to put it another way, conviction. We believe in something and it’s too powerful to be destroyed by transitory budgets and oil prices. In fact, we believe just like the Unionist Britnats believe in the UK.

Britain has survived everything from military attack to Scottish independence, from foreign ownership to the IMF begging bowl. It is currently surviving with nearly £1.5 trillion in sovereign debt. To do that, you must believe and I think they do. Unionists have created one of the world’s most enduring brands in the idea of Britain – despite wars, torture, corruption, dodgy royals etc, ad nauseum…

Everything about the UK since 2007 has been threadbare and mangy. People have suffered terribly while the rich earn more. Hedge fund managers are revered and protected by government while the jobless and disabled get hammered and humiliated. To mitigate the collapse we’ve had circuses like the Olympics.

Yet the question of Britain not continuing is never raised. It is literally unthinkable.

And for me, so is dropping independence.

It doesn’t mean I think everything will be sunny from Day One (note the dynastic capitals). I don’t. I actually think the early years will have serious challenges, but that in those first days the real heart of the nation will be forged because we will find out who we really are when we have to go it alone. In the early struggle, we will find out who are friends are…and discover what we all suspect – that we really can do this and that the foundations will be laid for our children’s children. It will be worth it.

Mad, of course, to the critics with calculators and those for whom a tough decision is when to start a new tea towel in the kitchen.

Just as I realised in 1972 that I had made mistakes and should never have got into the mess with the bank, so it is with Scotland. Remember, our finances, with or without devolution, are not our own. The budget is set at Westminster, our taxation powers are retained there with benefits as are the business development powers and the key levers of much public spending, public procurement, immigration and most borrowing.

Does anybody really imagine that if we had been independent years ago that we wouldn’t have matched up tax receipts and spending and made sure any deficit was within our comfortable borrowing requirement? Would we have drained our accounts with nuclear weapons and foreign wars, closed our factories and mines and prevented oil exploration off the West Coast? Do you think we’d have sold off the public oil company? Would we have allowed the decline which led to our young people leaving and never return? Would we have left post-industrial areas to waste, poverty and ill-health?

And isn’t a downturn in oil prices exactly when we would have turned to our National Oil Fund to support our economy – a fund burgeoning with petro currency and returns from investments worldwide? Where is that fund today…what happened to our natural resources and who spent it all and didn’t save a bean?

Today’s figures aren’t a denial of independence. They make the case for independence.

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All nations must take the long view of history to survive. We have done that in our movement and the day creeps ever closer, while any and every setback – referendum outcome/GERs reports – we take in our stride. In the lead up to last September the abiding quote from the Bard was A Man’s a Man for a’ that to emphasise the democratic nature of Yes. Today as we regroup and grow stronger, his relevant words come from the same tract – It’s comin’ yet for a’ that…(For a’ that and a’ that;

It’s comin’ yet for a’ that)

 

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39 thoughts on “Patience…

  1. As long as Westminster demands the right to run our economic affairs,the buck stops with them.
    Whether an independent Scotland would be in a better position is unknown and irrelevant.
    We should be asking the elite in London how they managed to get us into this mess and what are they going to do about it.

  2. How could we cut our cloth? what about stopping HS2,getting rid of crossrail in London,getting rid of Trident,getting rid of HoL,etc,etc
    I think Scotland could suffer the loss of all these projects,it would take longer getting to London and around London,but if that’s what it takes, we’ll bite the bullet.
    It would also be nice if these lovely people down in the treasury would allocate correctly the taxes from whisky and suchlike, to Scotland.

    • Yes the problem with trying to attribute tax revenue of whisky and other exports. Depends on which port they are actually exported from. Me thinks figures are manipulated.

    • There’s also the thing where a lot of our exports leave these shores via English ports and are not thus calculated in our current account. There’s not much in the way of English exports that get shipped up here to be exported. Look at our ports, gentrified with old Ocean liners and apartment blocks or foreign broadcast headquarters, or we build road bridges that cut them in half. Why don’t we have the port capacity to ship our own exports out any more? It can’t be transport problems that make Southampton a better bet than Glasgow.

      BTW I do understand about containerisation. But where are our regional container ports? To rival those down south for capacity? Little NZ put them in regionally way back. Dunedin, about the size of Dundee has one. From apples to wine, butter to frozen lamb it never has to go far to get on a ship. Deliberate government planning working with the exporters. Part of that ‘how do we view ourselves’ thing.

  3. Carmichael is a bit like your father saying you will never make it on your own son. You leave anyway and usually never look back.

  4. The flaw in the unionist argument is that it asks us to believe that the Westminster Government is currently, right now, favouring Scotland, mitigating our economic woes to the detriment of the rest of the UK. If we would be worse on our own, we must be getting more out now than we put in, which means we are being subsidised.

    In an environment where Scots having any influence in our democratically elected UK parliament is so vehemently opposed by the same unionist establishment, it is hard to believe that, behind the scenes and without fanfare they are quietly feather-bedding us all along.

  5. Steve Asaneilean

    Spot on Derek. Seriouly, if people don’t want independence because it might make them worse off by £1 a day what does that say about them?

    This defecit isn’t real. It’s illusory. And even if it was real it includes costs that, as an independent country, we wouldn’t have to bear. So Trident submarine renewal or HS2 or London Cross rail or aircraft carriers for mothballing or military adventurism or whatever.

    As an independent nation we would be a a position to make the right fiscal decisions for Scotland without one hand tied behind our back. We would have to come up with budgets that balance; we would have to keep our borrowings affordable; we would have to keep our expenditure realistic.

    But that is what being responsible is all about. How can Carmichael or anyone else make judgements about the finances of an independent Scotlsnd when they won’t even let us try?

    I always assumed that as an independent nation we might be a bit worse off, at least in the short term. But that didn’t concern me becuase for the vast majority of Scots who have little or nothing in terms of wealth it would have had no effect. But our ability to independently tackle inequality and social injustice most certainly would have.

  6. Excellent post Derek. I have yet to meet a Britnat who can speak with any conviction about the soul of “Britain”. It always comes down to this or that latest shock horror financial report, fear over pensions, fear over currency etc etc. In their limited world nothing can ever change or if it could it should be changed backwards. They are genuinely frightened of the concept of people who live, work and make their life in Scotland taking responsibility for its future. How can they feel more secure with the corrupt halfwits that inhabit Westminster running their lives for them?

  7. Donald Maclean

    I agree with most of your comments, Derek. There are two additional points worth making. This deficit is about 2 billion down on the previous year. This is the 34th year in a row we have raised more tax per head than rUK. We are still subsidising them. You will find a good analysis on the Business for Scotland website. http://ow.ly/KcOdM

  8. over on business for Scotland they have done a rebuttal of the figures http://www.businessforscotland.co.uk/westminster-parties-wrong-footed-on-gers-debate/
    If the union is doing such a good job – why is there a deficit full stop – its union policies that has got us to the mess we are in , it is different policies that get us out of that mess – if in a hole , stop digging and try something else.
    The LSE folks seemed to agree with wee nic ……… and they should know !

  9. I posted a comment on Wings a month ago about the danger of Westminster making life as difficult as they can for a newly independent Scotland. I expressed surprise then that nobody among the indy blogs seems to be taking a serious look at the more sinister motives behind many of Westminster’s actions towards Scotland. Why are we not collectively monitoring this more seriously?

    Think of what Thatcher did to the Scottish economy and the steady stream of asset stripping of Scotland that has gone on ever since. Think of the currency issue during the referendum. Think of the MOD spiriting away of military bases, the failure to respond to the falling price of oil, the underfunding of renewables development, the threat of new nuclear power stations being imposed on us, the crazy national grid connection charges which threaten Longannet and the rejection of carbon capture there. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2011/oct/19/david-cameron-longannet-carbon-capture

    We know how dangerously devious they are. They know bloody fine now that they can’t hold onto us much longer and by God they will use every dirty trick to strip out everything they can for themselves before we get there and also attempt a scorched earth policy wherever they can to make the initial years of our freedom as difficult for us as possible once we are free.

    This was their darkest underlying theme throughout the No referendum campaign – the real face of the NO campaign (what they would do to us if we dared to go). I expect a laying waste of Scotland’s future economic prospects while they still have us under their thumb and can exploit the chance that offers them. We have been here many times over the centuries. Just think, for example, how they did their best to strangle the Darien Scheme from the outset. Wake up Scotland!

    • Exactly my thoughts. Given the chance they’ll strip this country bare before dumping us. Even more than during the referendum, the build up to the G E in May has really shown their true colours as to what they really think of Scotland.

  10. Dunkie, I agree, I never thought for a minute that our friends in the South would be anything other than obstructive and perhaps it is a good thing we have now time to prepare for our Independence. I believe like Derek that it will happen sooner than later and that Westminster will be left wondering at the speed. I also think that Darien was constructed to lead the Elite of Scotland into Bankruptcy, it was never meant to work.
    How can you rake seriously criticism from a Government who is £1.5 trillion in debt and has very little means in the way of paying that debt of.

    • Darien was unfortunately a disaster of our own making. But what induced us to take that gamble was our southern neighbour whose Navigation Acts obstructed our overseas trade, even our trade by sea with them, though we shared the same monarch, and whose foreign wars caused our shipping to be seized by their enemies. They blockaded us. It was malign neglect. What changes.

  11. I tend to agree with Dunkie. Whilst the history of past independence movements that broke away from the British Empire show that the British government tried to be fair during the negotiations, tried not to leave a mess behind it, and that ought especially to be the case here since we share an island and have freedom of movement within the UK, that was generations ago, when British politicians were capable and took a principled statesmanlike perspective.

    I certainly don’t trust the current breed of shallow corrupt British Unionist politicians not to make life as difficult as possible for us, if only to coerce us into keeping Trident, which is a key part of their being able to project their power globally. It’s a chimera of course – they couldn’t use it independently if they wanted to, but it buys them a seat at the top tables.

    As regards the GERS figures, the gap is apparently due to a lower than expected tax yield. Unemployment in Scotland is getting better, and I believe is lower than in England.

    But can this be seen as economic recovery? Perhaps if there was some analysis it might be revealed to be the same trend that Osborne found – that the jobs that were being created were low-paid jobs which yielded little in tax. As a result Osborne found his projections for closing the deficit were way off last year, and in September he was forced to borrow a further £11.6 billion.

    There is a huge amount the Scottish government and local authorities could be doing to improve the GERS figures, for instance by building well-insulated low-rent public housing. People on low pay would not need to resort to tax credit or housing benefit, and their health and mental health would improve. Over time this would lower public spending.

    But what incentive is there if London controls the purse strings anyway? Then the exercise is purely academic.

    • Exactly MBC, what is the point in building grand infrastructure programmes such as HS2? They only serve to massage government egos, half hour knocked off current time from London to Birmingham. We should be investing in people! Affordable homes, sustainable industries…… create wealth in people’s pockets! If We want to run a successful country we must have stability and balance through society and rid the mentality of big business and its short term rewards.

  12. And don’t forget £17.1 billion, that’s £17,100,000,000 to Wastemonster over the past five years simply to service THEIR debt, not for services rendered, not for anything except them funding the bankers. I am not an angry person but I am beginning to get angry with all the “rivers of blood” and “ginger mutant” rhetoric coming from the MSM in England this week. I pray (to a god I don’t believe in) that I am not as disappointed on 8 May as I was on 19 September (although my hopes and expectations are at around 20 – 30 SNP MP’s not the 50+ being touted. I’ve played this game for far too long a time to expect that to happen)

  13. And I see Ratcliffe has just bought another fracking licence for a further 127 square miles of Central Scotland despite the moratorium. That’s money London has just earned off our backs.

  14. Pentland Firth

    If I was mad enough to outsource all my financial decisions to a third party in exchange for pocket money, I wouldn’t be exactly delighted if his annual review of my finances showed a large deficit and he then tried to persuade me that the figures proved that I couldn’t run my own affairs. A sensible person would sack the financial “expert” and take matters into their own hands.

  15. Frankly I would live in a cave and eat moss if we could get independence.

    • Is there room in your cave for two more, me and Broadbield!?

      Also, your moss, is it organic or deep-fried… 🙂

  16. With “friends” like the bumbling Secretary of State Against Scotland Carmichael, who needs enemies!

  17. The solution to the economic mess that the UK govt has got us into is to kill the evil of austerity and increase public investment (aka spending) and tax the rich – something which none of the UK parties will do. Thanks to Brown and Darling the cost of “saving the world” was dumped on the ordinary citizen, especially those at the bottom of the income distribution, while those responsible continued to earn their millions and got richer.

    I too would eat moss and happily pay higher taxes to be free and live in a fairer society.

    But right now I find the political discourse, from the UK parties and their branch offices deeply depressing in its shallow, lying, slandering, immaturity.

  18. The UK government’s economic model created the biblical £1.5tr debt which we proportionately have a share of. It was UK government policy not to create a sovereign wealth fund for the rainy days on the discovery of oil. It was UK government policy to de-industrialise the UK and move from a manufacturing base to a financial services model. It was UK government policy to promote the idea of trickle down.

    This has produced what precisely for the electorate? One of the widest rich/poor gaps in the developed world and smug, arrogant idiots with an ‘I told you so’ complex.

    The point, as we are all aware, of both independence and full fiscal autonomy is to tailor the economic model to suit the needs and aspirations of the electorate. The economic management of the UK government isn’t something I’d be crowing about if I were Messrs Cameron, Milliband, Clegg or indeed governor general Carmichael. As far as I am concerned austerity Britain, food bank Britain is entirely their construct.

    Well done them.

  19. Its like being shackled to a rotting, stinking corpse, that every now and then springs into life to spew on you. Every time the independence movement looks light hearted, looks to be working for their polls, something positive happens, the corpse groans and grips your ankle tighter.

  20. “We believe in something and it’s too powerful to be destroyed by transitory budgets and oil prices. In fact, we believe just like the Unionist Britnats believe in the UK.”

    This is one of the problems I have with the independence debate. On both sides there seems to be an assumption that there are basically two types of people – those who believe in the UK religiously (they often seem to get called “Britnats” on pro-independence sites or are assumed to be slavish Labour supporters) and those who have faith in independence (universally referred to as “nationalists” on Labour/Tory sites).

    Nobody seems to be arguing for those of us in the middle who aren’t particularly interested in nationalism and can go with independence or not depending on the circumstances. It’s people like us that GERS matters for because we’re not just taking the numbers and spinning them whichever way suits our argument. In fact I could have told you exactly how this report would be spun even before it was released – the No side would focus on the fact that our revenue is lower than spending (8.6% of UK revenue, 9.2% of spending); the Yes side will cite the fact that our revenue is higher than the UK average (£400 per capita higher). In fact, I’ll tell you right now that will be what happens with the next GERS report as well – the numbers will be different, the arguments will be identical.

    It’s a bad report in isolation for the concept of full fiscal autonomy. If we had 8.6% of UK spending (i.e. it was proportionate to our revenue) it would be the same thing as cutting public spending by 6.5%. The question isn’t whether this year’s report backs up FFA or not (it clearly doesn’t and I question the objectivity of anyone who tries to argue that point) the question is how much you read into one year. In 2011-12 the report largely showed the opposite picture – and many people took that report in isolation and used it to argue for independence. The truth is a lot more complicated than the soundbites and you can only come to a proper opinion by making an educated guess about what the figures are likely to be going forward not just taking one year and using it as a stick to beat the other side with.

    • Benjorn, I have been to other countries as I expect you have, they have up years, they have down years. It doesn’t matter a whit to them. They ARE independent. You argue that you are somewhere in the middle, never understood people who have no strong opinions, but that is just me. I have found among those who were going to vote No that there were two sorts, those terrified of losing money or position or those who could not imagine no longer being part of Britain.There were people like that when the American War of Independence happened, some left and went to Canada many fled back to the “Mother Country” but quite a few stayed and strangely enough survived.
      I was in Bratislava last year and the guide did say that everything wasn’t rosy but they were happy. They no longer had those in Prague looking down their noses at them. I think that is the hope of us who voted for Independence, that we will regain the pride we are entitled to have as we run this country as it wishes to be run.
      I have asked this question time without number what makes Scotland among the Nations of the world uniquely unable to be independent. You now I have yet to have a decent answer.

  21. If Westminster mismanagement has lead to the £1200 figure – surely it’s better to get out now before it creeps to £5000 (like N.Ireland) which would be much more difficult to handle independently.

  22. Furthermore – if anyone in the press wants to criticise the Scottish government for these figures, they’d do well to remember that the amount of money Scotland receives or raises is controlled by Westminster, so who really is to blame? And more importantly, who can fix it?

  23. I don’t believe anything you say Derek until I hear from Jim Murphy. What? Carmichael has commented without Murph getting in there first. Who would have believed it?

    Seriously, a great piece of reflective writing. My literary knowledge isn’t good enough to recall the saying about ‘existing in prose and living in poetry’ or something to that effect, but your post reminds me of it.

  24. There are real questions to be asked about the nature of the economic ‘recovery’ that the UK is currently experiencing. George Osbourne appears to have created another housing bubble in London, expressly to attract in oligarchs and rich shieks.

    Our manufacturing sector is still in recession, leaving overseas earnings to be composed of selling our skillls, as in our oil sector expertise, or in the dealers of funny money.

    My guess is that once we get past May 7 the real economy will be revealed and it won’t be a happy prospect.

  25. Derek,

    Didn’t I get through moderation, then?

  26. The polls are shifting for GE15 in the last couple of weeks

    Not the snp vote – the massive swing to snp is holding very steady

    But…
    http://www.electionforecast.com and others no longer suggest that labour and con are in a dead heat of seats – cons looking a little better

    No longer predict snp labour being able to form a coalition or that the more likely labour minority government with snp support on confidence and supply is that likely an option

    Labour at present can’t form a government unless nearly everyone joins in – v v unlikely

    And contrary to tripe we are being sold by SLAB if every snp vote went to labour the situation wouldn’t change –

    There is time yet

    But at present the forecast of the most likely outcome is 5 more years of the con-dems – and the cuts we will see will will be ideological hit the weakest and harder this time – remember “we are all in it together” – better together indeed

    That may test our patience a bit

    And it may be a very unfortunate way for us all (including many decent left wing and liberal no voters) to learn for sure that a great big St. Bernard of a pup was sold to them by their parties in the referendum by being told to vote no

  27. Haven’t been here for a while but it’s great to see the sharpness is still here. That was a great post Derek and perfectly encapsulates the narrowness of the No campaign’s and the Establishment’s view of Scotland and the Scots.

    It’s coming yet for a’ that. I like that. And, I suspect like a few people, in some way I feel a ‘natural’ move to independence through massive SNP representation at Westminster, an SNP victory in 2016, full fiscal autonomy and finally independence, will bring all of the people, and not just those who decided last year to vote Yes.

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