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.
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.
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.
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.
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)