I’ve a few things to get through today having spent Friday recording and Saturday at swimming and rugby. First of all I want to thank all of you who responded so positively to my last blogs on what makes us nationalists committed to independence. The reaction was overwhelming with probably my biggest ever Twitter retweet count (I’ve no idea how to assess that). A number of you said I had put into words what you had felt all your life…that is really moving to hear and makes the hours in the Maryhill Bunker worthwhile. I said when I started two and a half years ago that I wanted to add my voice to the national movement and I was determined to be honest and, when necessary, fearless in expressing my views and commenting on others. That has led to cracks in relationships and an uncomfortable sense of being ‘out there’, open to criticism in return and, inevitably, to ridicule from those who don’t share my opinions. I know many of you understandably don’t want to be on the front line but express your appreciation for those of us who take the case forward. Given that we do it for nothing – the Wine Club notwithstanding – as opposed to the Unionist flag-bearers who are paid for opposing self-government, I think it tells you a lot about our motivation. As my pal Billy Kay puts it: It’s the Cause. Not a single email or tweet is wasted – they mean a lot to me.
Amid the messages, as you’ll see among the responses on the right, is one that adds pleasure to the warm glow. It tries to contradict my statement that we don’t want to be better than anyone else, rather we want to be just the same (as other nations) by quoting an old tract of Siol nan Gaidheal! When your opponent sinks to the level of the asinine, it tells you he has already lost the argument. To be fair, I had completely forgotten the fruitcakes of Siol who have fallen off everybody’s radar. SNG to my knowledge, were proscribed by the SNP 34 years ago and, according to Professor Murray Pittock, disbanded in 1985. “Some of these groups were probably riddled with agents provocateurs; the odd one was genuine though all seemed incompetent,’ he writes. There is still a website though if you’re interested with press cuttings back to the 80’s…Just google.
It does show that your organisation can always be defined by its weakest link, no matter how negligible or incongruous. (Didn’t the English Defence League, the National Front, the BNP and the Orange Order all back the Union?)
My reader quotes an STV blogger in his defence who describes you all as paranoid and aggrieved. I suggest there is a certain lack of self-awareness on display here. Read his effort and decide who exactly sounds paranoid and aggrieved? I apologise for this first ever mention of Stephen Daisley on the blog and hope to make it the last. I asked a friend who has spent his adult life in the Scottish media and has written and commented extensively on it what he thought. He said, in so many words, that ‘he was interesting when he started, a good addition to the debate and it was well written. Now it’s descended into the usual smear and agitprop to get more clicks. The trouble is that some of them just can’t sustain it.’ You see? It ain’t easy producing quality every few days over a sustained period. That’s why so much of the scribbling by ubiquitous columnists falls short. (They need something to believe in!)
Insulting someone’s followers isn’t the brightest either. Remember this is the official voice of STV and STV thinks you’ve got mental health problems. That’s your local independent TV news and current affairs station. I checked and Stephen is their digital political correspondent. What a rebuff to journalists like Bernard Ponsonby and John Mackay who’ve upheld real broadcast journalism for years. But if you want to see an example of what paranoia and grievance can do to you, read here. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-499935/Kirsty-Warks-husband-loses-court-battle-judge-frowns-email-hacking.html
The really funny part was that I saw this message immediately after reading an email to the blog from a female academic in New York who, as you’ll see on the right, uses her extensive historical constitutional knowledge to contradict me, very elegantly. That’s the kind of person who does contact me. I’ve just had an exchange with a Scottish university lecturer about my previous blog and an email conversation with someone else who reads me – on of our foremost academics with an international reputation (more later). I guess that’s what STV calls grievance monkeys. Or maybe it’s my Twitter account then? I suppose some among 12,000 will have a grievance. Let’s look through my list of followers. Oh, yes, there’s a Michelin-starred chef, a Hollywood film maker, government ministers (!?), best-selling authors and, wait for it…Jeremy Corbyn and Kezia Dugdale…both following me. I knew it! People with a grievance. (I think theirs is that the SNP keep winning.)
I think the message is: If you’re going to attack, get some ammo. Don’t march off to war behind the pipes and drums armed with a pea-shooter and a cocktail stick. Still, let’s be glad Stephen’s giving us the benefit of his maturity and experience – our debate needs all the help it can get.
Now…to the point of this blog. The above mentioned email conversation was with an expert on economics who doesn’t want his name appended (presumably worried Stephen think’s he’s paranoid). I asked him a simple question – If Scotland had voted Yes how would we have coped with the fall in the oil price?
His first point acknowledges the serious hit Scotland faces but contrasts it with the money we are losing through the Tories’ austerity programme.
‘At the time of the referendum oil tax revenues were priced into the budget calculations at about $100 per barrel to yield roughly 7bn pounds a year. Since then the price has fallen to $30 per barrel; that is a 70% drop since 2014. So you would expect, absent any other changes, the tax revenues to drop roughly 70% too: to about 2.1bn pounds now. However the implied loss of 4.9bn in tax revenues is about the same (and possibly a little smaller perhaps) than the austerity cuts which the UK government has imposed on us and which we could arguably have avoided had there been a Yes vote. In that sense we would have been no worse off than we are now, and in a real sense better off because the oil price will recover (increased revenues in the future) while it is fair to assume the austerity cuts will be here for the foreseeable future.’
He goes on: ‘Even if we had lost 4.9bn pounds in oil revenues, after a Yes vote we would have recovered the implicit subsidies that Scottish taxpayers pay to rUK (for pensions, housing benefit, bank levies, adjusted debt servicing costs etc). Those would be gains to the budget that could be set against the loss of oil revenues, leaving only a relatively small net loss.’
My economist contact is skeptical too about the accounting involved. ‘We are being told by the Treasury that the oil tax revenues are running at just 700m pounds currently. That is a 90% drop, and comes at a time when the quantities being pumped have actually risen over the past 2-3 years (presumably because the tax surcharge has been lifted, or because the specialist operators have come in to pump in the marginal fields). So where has the missing 20% gone? The fact that there seems to be 20% missing suggests (quite strongly) that the Treasury figures are wrong, or at least reflect some other activities in the accounting system that would not have been there had we got a Yes vote.’
He concludes: ‘So could Scotland have survived as an independent economy? This view implies we could have, and probably rather more easily than most people suppose. And could we have borrowed? I don’t see why not. The net borrowing from above would be fairly small, perhaps 1% of GDP (it is easier to borrow against oil than against taxes, the collateral is better).
‘The danger I see that the need to borrow might now go on for much longer than we might have expected. I don’t think any of us expected Saudi Arabia to keep pumping and the prices go down for so long, and now Iraq and Iran are joining in. They will have to stop eventually because of the downward pressure on their own budgets, but if the low prices go on for another 5 years then it may become expensive. Diversification in the economy would help, but without independence we lack the powers.’
There you are. The loss of oil revenues would be partly offset by avoiding the Tory cuts, budget shortfalls are covered by borrowing and the oil price will rise in time. I add my own reminder, curiously missing from Unionist critiques. It is that if we have debts it is because they were accrued by the British government not by the Scottish one and virtually everything that can be said to be negative about our economy happened under the Union which keeps strategic economic control away from our hands. The First Minister told Marr this morning that forecasts for our onshore economy showed it overtaking the loss in oil revenues. But then she’s a believer, like me.