Let’s get this right. Before last September, Unionism decreed that Independence was Bad and devolution was Good – just its limits remained ill-defined. Now, further devolution in the form of Devo Max is Bad and, if anything Badder than Independence.
Devo Max will variously ‘be unsustainable, destroy the economy, lead to huge service cuts, tax rises’…etc. all leading to Armageddon Two. When we proposed unhooking from the UK, it was a stupid idea because, mainly, we couldn’t afford it. Now that we’ve said OK, we’ll stay but would like to take on a significant amount of responsibility for ourselves within the Union, the response is: That’s (also) a stupid idea. You can’t afford it.
When the oil price is high, we should celebrate the Union and be grateful…no need for independence. When the oil price falls…we’d be mad to go it alone.
This is the double-headed monster that is Britain – we’re the place where fair play was born – except we kidnapped people for torture; we have an independent civil service – except when the Permanent Secretary at the Treasury decrees secretly that impartiality doesn’t apply; we’re the family of nations – where Scots don’t qualify to share their own currency; and now we’re the place where the Prime Minister offers Devo Max and then withdraws it when he gets our votes.
In the context of the General Election however, I think the Unionist attempt to undermine the SNP with the Gers figures and the oil price misfires and may be counter-productive. (I’ll come to the economic issues in a moment). One of the seemingly unlearned lessons of the referendum is that you can’t sneer at your own country without arousing antipathy. Yet all I hear from Jim Murphy, Kezia Dugdale and the trumpeting Jackie Baillie is undisguised glee at Scotland’s predicament, parroting the same words that English trolls use in tweets about low income, not enough resources, reliance on bloc grant (English taxpayers) and a background of whoops of delight that our country would struggle economically. Does anybody think this is good politics? Do they ever listen back to their own words and put themselves in the place of a voter? They don’t, of course, and probably can’t, because their whole raison d’etre is to attack the SNP and any wider perspective like an obligation to the nation, lies mute.
Surely the defining difference between the campaigns was the optimism and aspiration of Yes and the relentless Ye Canny Dae It mantra that actually lost votes for No. And they’re still at it, reliving the campaign as if it wasn’t over and repeating the same errors.
The time for making a case against independence has gone and the voters know it. This time, they want to deliver a bloody nose and they know for certain it can’t lead to independence, even if many of them, possibly a majority, want it to. This is a zero sum game…by voting SNP, the voters can’t lose.
Telling them that the latest figures show a new nation struggling, makes no difference because it’s irrelevant to an independence that isn’t going to happen (any time soon).
I fear something similar may apply to Devo Max. There is no doubt that on the face of it, reduced revenue would hurt a system built on retaining all taxes. But no matter how hard the Unionist bloc of Labour and Tories shout about it, I think their capacity to scare has evaporated. So many scare stories have been told, so many bogeymen have loomed out of the shadows that the trick has stopped working. That’s why Labour people who once felt obliged to tell others that they would vote Labour whatever their misgivings, are now openly SNP. The subtle community pressures through trades unions, organisations, council employers and the like have broken down and working class Scots now feel the freedom of voting they way they wish – and many are using it to give their verdict on those who have failed them.
Another frothing rant by Brian Wilson, a wheedling Murphy sound-bite and even, if they found it, the calmer analysis of Brian Ashcroft, just rebounds off the wall of resistance as if to say: You’ve had your chance. We listened for years and look where it got us.
I have one theme of my own when it comes to Scotland’s resources. It is this: Whatever state the accounts are in, it is the result of Union.
Our entire economy – for 300 years, remember – has been run by people elsewhere, people, who as we now know from Sir Nicholas Macpherson, twisted the rules to make the civil service a political arm of government against the Scots and against every rule of British government. In other words, these are people who will never – never – have Scotland’s best interests at heart.
Another glaring example is their campaign pleading with us to stay because they loved us – apparently – but now we are going further and actually voting to be part of the government, they treat us like immigrants from the sub continent. Britain took over India, ran it, exploited it, made Indians work for them through enslavement and violent threat and got rich off the back of the Indians. In return the Indians got passports but encountered discrimination and obstacles when they got to Britain. Oh, we didn’t expect you to actually come to live here…
If oil rich Scotland with world class universities and highly developed industries covering tourism, food and drink and life sciences, isn’t able to balance its books and have money in reserve – then whose fault is that, because it can’t be blamed on independence, can it?
I like this section from Business for Scotland.
The Barnett Formula will be lauded by unionists as it does mean that Scotland has more to spend in years where revenues drop. However, the key point is that in the years in which Scotland’s revenues have been far, far higher than the average for rest of the UK, the Barnet Formula has severely limited Scottish spending to an amount close to the UK’s. Peer reviewed research by Business for Scotland has proven that had Scotland had been an independent country for the past 34 years (as the UK debt mountain grew) Scotland’s higher revenues would have meant that we would not have had to borrow a single penny. In fact Scotland would by now have a cash surplus of at least £50bn. All of the UK debt was generated outwith Scotland, and in the 2013/14 figures £3bn or 24% of Scotland’s deficit was driven by interest on that UK debt and the previous year £4.02bn or 33% of Scotland’s deficit was interest on debt. Let’s be clear, the Barnett Formula helps as part of the UK in some years, but has overall massively limited investment in Scotland’s economy.
And why do the people of limited vision never recognise that it is because Scotland lacks the levers to fully utilise its capacity to grow the economy that we are poorer than we should be? The economic model is not appropriate for Scotland – it is London’s creation and yet they are the ones telling us the conditions are wrong even for full fiscal autonomy.
Let’s take them at their word then. If not full fiscal autonomy, then what? Where is their suggestion? Do they have an insight or is jeering and name-calling the extent of the Murphy Revolution? It appears so.
However, in stark contrast to Murphy’s vacuum, I discovered a report which looks at these issues, although written some years ago. It examines FFA and concludes that it is probably a better solution for Scotland to have a variant of full autonomy, one which is also conducive to harmony with the other nations by retaining an element of Barnett as a form of equalisation. In other words, whatever works…
The authors declare that Scotland should have a considerable proportion of taxes raised in Scotland returned directly to Scotland – income tax, VAT and corporation tax with a package of other taxes too. That’s already further than Smith on business taxes and Smith only assigns a proportion of VAT.
The report also dismisses the idea that a new system would immediately fall foul of the existing economic balance – the very case that Unionists are making today. They say: In embarking on a fiscal federalist system a needs assessment exercise would have to be conducted in order to tie down the size of any bloc grant provided by the centre. We also argue for some form of transition mechanism that minimises the amount of disruption in the system and maintains the level of revenue initially available to the Scottish Parliament at a time of significant change. We are also of the opinion that any legislation creating tax assignment for Scotland should allow scope for further modification of the Scottish fiscal system – much as on the lines of the Spanish system where regional finances under the law are reviewed every five years. For one thing fiscal federalism is currently evolving worldwide, and in several countries is being allowed to pass through several phases. For another thing, it is very hard to get it absolutely right first time – something that we believe the Scotland Act (1998) failed to achieve.
Hardly scary, is it…more measured and considerate, taking careful account of existing conditions rather than echoing the blowhard bluster of Murphy and crew about impending disaster.
So who wrote this thoughtful account of a clever way to deliver real economic powers within the UK without damaging Scotland? Well, its lead author is arch-Unionist and pound sterling adherent Professor Ronald MacDonald of Glasgow University with special mentions for help going to, among others, Wendy Alexander, Brian Ashcroft, Jo Armstrong, John McLaren and Arthur Midwinter. By my book, that’s a Labour pro-Union roster. They wrote this 10 years ago and it seems to me to be way beyond any thinking going on the Murphy’s Better Together staff room. In fact it looks to me like the basis of a discussion – between a Labour government and the SNP, perhaps?