Saturday, 13 February 2016

Bonnie Prince Scotland

There’s a moment in Walter Scott’s Redgauntlet that sums up where we are in Scottish politics at present. The novel describes the fictitious Jacobite Rebellion of 1765. The not so Young Pretender and not quite so Bonnie Prince Charlie has returned to Scotland for one last go. But there are only a few Jacobites left by this time. Everyone else has moved on. The Prince and a few other plotters never even really get to start their revolt. A British general arrives to explain that the Government have long known about their plans.  But instead of arresting or chasing the Bonnie Prince through the heather, this time he and his followers are allowed to go free. They are no threat and their folly can be indulged.

Scott’s point is that the moment had passed and that it is silly to keep fighting battles once they have been decisively lost. There is something pathetic about the little band of rebels who had been so powerful twenty years earlier that they just might have won.
If we are not at this point in Scotland today, we very soon will be. Walter Scott should really be our national writer. He tells far more about the nature of Scotland and what it is to be Scottish than anyone else. He understands our history and understands how it just keeps repeating itself like too much haggis on Burns night.

An independent Scotland today would have to raise taxes by around 20% and cut spending by around the same. This is rather more than “a penny for Scotland”. This quite simply is not going to happen. The rebellion may seem like a threat. It may still get people worked up. But it can be allowed to slip away quietly to retire somewhere warmer in France or Italy, rather bitter but still dreaming of what was and what might have been. We were so close. We reached Derby. We were the 45, only 100 miles or 10 percent short.

The SNP will almost certainly win the majority of seats at Holyrood. A year or so back this result would have seemed like a disaster for Pro UK people like me. But that was where we were then. The moment has passed. It hardly seems necessary any long to campaign to keep the SNP out. Let them be in if it pleases them and their followers. They too may safely be indulged.

We are in a very odd position in the relationship between central UK Government and the Scottish Government. The UK Government wants to give Scotland more power and especially the power to raise and lower taxes. But the SNP are only going to take such power on condition that the subsidy from central Government continues and indeed increases if Scotland’s financial position worsens. The SNP are desperate that Scotland remains dependent on the UK all the while occasionally making threats about independence.  They want new powers just so long as they don’t have to use them and whatever the Tories do in England, the SNP intend to more or less follow in Scotland. They won’t raise taxes here. They want Scotland to be more or less just the same as England. What a lot of fuss we’ve all been through in the past few years just so some people can feel more Scottish by voting for independence and the SNP. But that too can now safely be indulged.

The Scottish parliament controls many things and whether or not they are run competently clearly matters. But on the big issue of whether you want independence or not, it doesn’t matter at all if the SNP run Holyrood more or less forever. There won’t be independence until and unless Scotland can afford it. At the moment that isn’t even close. We are just as dependent on England’s money as Wales and Northern Ireland. This may be as tough to swallow as uncooked neeps, but it nevertheless is true.
The focus of nearly all the parties in Scotland is on how to maximise public spending, how to avoid any cuts, how indeed to make the people of Scotland as dependent on public spending as possible. The ideal is that lots of the nice things we want should be free, i.e. paid for by others and given that we are living so much beyond our means that really means paid for by the English.

Whether you are a Liberal Democrat, a Scottish Nationalist, a Labour supporter or a Green, the tendency is to think that ever increasing government spending is the solution to everything. The debate becomes increasingly sterile. We’ll spend more than you. Oh no, we’ll spend more than you.  Meanwhile the issue that most matters is not addressed at all. How can we make Scotland make a profit?

Those parts of the UK that were formerly dominated by heavy industry are poorer than those that were not. But we spend our time looking back, just like the Jacobites, to a time when we dug coal and made steel. We complain bitterly about the Butcher Thatcher who massacred our steelworks and then killed off the wounded. But look at those parts of the UK that are prosperous. Look at the parts of Europe that are doing well. You don’t need heavy industry to make money. Switzerland has next to no natural resources, nor does Surrey.

The way to make Scotland more prosperous and less dependent is to vote for policies that are friendly to business and which gradually would allow us to live within our means. None of the parties of the Left, which so dominate Scottish politics, are interested in this, for the simple reason that they all think that government knows best. From a Pro UK perspective it might be a good thing if Scotland remains forever dependent. If we were living within our means, independence would once more be viable. But the danger at the moment is not so much Scots voting for independence as the English doing so. Their taxes subsidise Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, but for their pains they get less representation, fewer free public services and they get insults and threats to boot.

Whenever the majority of UK citizens want something that she doesn’t like, Nicola Sturgeon threatens independence. It doesn’t matter, for example, if the majority of English people, want to leave the EU, Nicola thinks Scottish votes are more important.  If you vote to leave, she says, we’ll vote to leave you too. Perhaps her little threat of rebellion is genuine, but my guess is that it’s just as fictitious as the Jabobite rebellion of 1765. But what’s not fictitious is that the patience of people in England is clearly growing thin. I sense that it is they who are really ready to rebel. No sensible country wishes to lose a third of its territory. Too many English people think the break-up of the UK would have no negative consequences for them. But when pushed enough people tend to act irrationally. We in Scotland would do very well to cease complaining quite so much. We all in the UK need to start acting more like the family we are, for at the moment I think quite a lot of people in England would dearly like to see Scotland faced with a 20% tax rise with no-one but ourselves to blame. Bonnie Prince Scotland would be indulged and allowed to depart in peace. No-one would much notice nor care. 


  1. If Scotland was prosperous and paying its way, I think the grievance-rhetoric, and with it the desire for independence, would simply dry up. We'd all have better things to do with our time.

    In Victorian times, Scots didn't spend their time wittering on about Culloden and Bannockburn, they were out there setting up their factories, or availing themselves of all of the opportunities of the Empire. There was no conflict with the English because our energies were directed towards a common purpose.

    I thought your paragraph on keeping Scots dependent on the State was very well expressed.

  2. "It hardly seems necessary any long to campaign to keep the SNP out."

    Shame, as it went so well last time you tried it.

    "We are just as dependent on England’s money as Wales and Northern Ireland."

    Sigh. It's not "England's money". England, like the rest of us, is in hock up to its eyebrows. The UK borrows money to fill the huge black hole in its economy and distributes it to the four corners of the land. Scotland pays in more than anyone but London and the South-East.

    Either get it right (by saying "international bankers' money") or at least lie more accurately by saying "London's". Because even without oil money Scotland pays its way in the Union. We have debt because Britain does.

    1. Sigh...Stu, we all know you can't grasp maths or economics (have a read of your own blog, it's good piece of lies, no facts).

      Scotland would be far worse economically out of UK.
      Take GERS, produced by Scottish Government over past 15 years:
      Income inc oil is £698.3bn
      Spend: £799.8bn
      Which means we'd have deficit of £101.5bn.

      If we add oil production costs it gets worse and that's without previous debt (which we had) and costs of independence.

      If you have to try so hard to dupe people to vote for independence then you really should realise how bad it is.

      Oh, we evil unionists you block on twitter are trying to help with your basic errors. Do embrace it ;-)

    2. ‘The UK borrows money to fill the huge black hole in its economy…’

      Wrong. The borrowing it to fill a deficit in government spending. There is no ‘huge black hole’ in the economy. The two things are entirely different. I would suggest you read some economics.

      'Scotland pays in more than anyone but London and the South-East.'

      Wrong. 2013/14 Scotland was fourth, behind London, South East (no hyphen), and East England. This is including geographic share of North Sea oil. (See GERS 13/14, Page 43.) Scotland will have sunk like a stone down this table in 14/15 and 15/16, for obvious reasons.

      Interesting you chastise the author to 'get it right', and accuse the author of lying, when the two arguments you use are themselves wrong.

      'Scotland pays its way in the Union.' If by 'pays its way' you mean gets a subsidy to the tune of £800 per person over and above what the state spends on UK citizens generally (rising to around £2,000 per person this year once the oil collapse and drop in taxation from oil workers is taken into account), then, yes, Scotland does pay its way. Or, to put it another way, no. No it doesn't.

    3. Excellent piece Effie, thanks

    4. "Sigh. It's not "England's money" "
      Correct - it's not England's money it's UK money, everyone puts in.

      "The UK borrows money... We have debt because Britain does"
      Most nation states borrow money and so would iScotland, the notable exceptions being Gaddafi's Libya etc.

      "and distributes it to the four corners of the land"
      Pooling and sharing and all that.

      Laughable the way Nippy & Swinney ran a mile when offered FFA. Even outpaced Mo Farah those two did!

  3. The fake Rev "I am not an economist" (c) Radio Scotland shows up
    Once more to show that he isn't, er, an economist. Your gravy train of taking the deluded cult for money is shortly drawing to an end

  4. You'd think that the fake Rev would just give it up after the amount of kicking he has had by those much more economic minded! But no like a bad penny he turns up again and again.
    Good blog Effie as always...

  5. Another piece which is as deeply unpleasant as it is misguided. Unlike you Effie I've lived in England for quite a while; almost half my life in fact. My wife is English, I've attended both an English and a Scottish university, and I've worked for a variety of companies, British and foreign. The overwhelming sense I get from the English people I know and interact with is that whilst they'd be sad to see the UK come to an end, they see it as very much a matter for Scots to decide. Some of them may indeed be a tad exasperated by the constitutional to and fro, but I've never met any who were concerned about "losing" a third of "their" territory (isn't it "our" territory by the way?).

    In the end, most English people just aren't that exercised by whether Scotland becomes independent or not. If it happens it will make a negligible difference to most of their lives, nor will it haver much impact on their living standards. Other than people who have direct family links, few people actually have much knowledge of, let alone connection with, Scotland.

    It may be true that some of the more politically active (which already makes them a small minority), particularly those on the right and of a Eurosceptic frame of mind, ARE actually exercised about the prospect of a heavy Scots "Remain" vote in the upcoming brexit referendum, overturning a narrow "Leave" vote in the rest of the UK. (It's quite possible a 60% Scots Remain vote with a high turnout would reverse a 51% or 52% Leave vote in rUK for example). Otherwise, most English people in particular just aren't that bothered. Attitudes in Wales and NI would probably be somewhat different.

    You, and you BTL supporters talk with such airy certainty about the economic disaster which would follow independence. Sadly for you and them, the cries of "Wolf!" aren't getting any more convincing, as the polls and continuing abject failure of unionist parties in Scotland amply demonstrate. For all the heroic efforts of "Graph Boy" Kevin Hague to demonstrate we'd soon be joining the ranks of failed states, it seems Scots just aren't buying the unionist scale oil any more.

    Rev Stu may be no economist, but there again neither is the unionist poster boy Mr Hague from memory. The dwindling band of convinced unionists in Scotland may sincerely believe that Scotland is subsidised and couldn't survive on it's own, or would be much poorer if it tried. Who knows, they may be right. The thing is, they could also be wrong. Just as there are risks attendant on taking the leap of faith involved in voting Yes at the next inevitable indyref, there are risks in remaining in the UK, particularly given the direction of travel of the current Tory government and it's austerity policies. You and those who support you may not like or believe that there is any alternative, but that doesn't make your belief or faith based position the unanswerable truth.

    If the case for the union, and the policies of the current government, were so persuasive the SNP wouldn't be in the commanding lead they are at present. It makes little sense for unionists to "rage against the machine" and insult the intelligence of Scottish voters by pointing out how deluded that are, how they've fallen for an unreasoning cult, or how they are voting for a failed government that's leading them over an abyss towards third world levels of poverty. The Cassandra act is a busted flush. If you don't come up with a different more positive message, the future for unionism as a movement looks as bright as that of Scottish Labour.

  6. I think ndls61 over-estimates the English willingness to continue humouring Scotland and its endless stream of complaints. I work for a large business in south west England that has decided at board level to exclude Scots suppliers from future tenders unless there is absolutely no choice. The grounds are that the uncertainty about independence means it is too risky to offer long term contracts (such as as provision of specialist parts, accountancy support, payrolls and IT services) to businesses that may soon be outside the UK. My attempts to downplay the likelihood are undermined by the more extreme views put forward by diehard nationalists, who apparently don't realise that their views are noted by non-Scots.

    In 2014 my English colleagues were really concerned about the possibility of Yes winning the referendum. Now the best one can say is that they are indifferent, but an increasing number will, I think, be positively glad to see Scotland leave the union. Judging by comments I hear I don't perceive there will be any sympathy or willingness to accommodate a country that is widely seen as a bunch of whingers who want endless subsidies for their excessive spending. This is what the crude 19th century nationalism of the SNP has achieved and no doubt they will be pleased with the results, regardless of the extent to which ordinary Scots will lose their livelihoods.

    In my own line of work I know that independence will have a catastrophic impact on certain Scottish companies, but Rev Stu, ndles61 and others will no doubt see that as an acceptable price for freedom... the freedom to be like Ireland in the 1950s, perhaps?

    Nationalists simplistically see England as responsible for all the country's troubles, yet fail to appreciate that it is the Scots managers and workers themselves who are primarily responsible for decisions to disinvest in the country. It is far too easy to blame outsiders and then make sweeping and unsupported assertions that independence will cure all known political, social, employment and economic problems in just a few years. All Scotland needs is to do is grow as fast as China and not be talked down by anyone. Yeah, right.

    The correct moment for independence would have been 1979, when oil was coming on tap and when then political and economic world was much simpler. Scotland could today survive as an independent country, but would be more akin to the economics of Bulgaria or Slovakia than Norway. When it comes to the crunch I somehow doubt that the nationalists will ever reach the requisite majority. The risk of marked short-medium term economic decline will almost certainly outweigh concerns about staying with the UK in the minds of a majority of Scots voters, regardless of what nationalists may wish.

    1. I think your board are doing themselves and the company no favours, but in the end it's their choice of course. I can only imagine the unionist outrage if Scottish firms were found to be excluding English firms on the grounds they opposed independence! Of course views can be noted, on both sides, but you considerably over-egg the impact.

      Of course it's always possible the folk you know actually believe what they read in the MSM and uncritically swallow what they hear and read. That would hardly be unique. Much of the rest of your post is, I'm afraid, just the usual intellectual lazy unionist scaremongering; airy assertion dressed up as incontestable fact. Same old, same old.

      No sane person ever said independence would be risk free. Similarly, there are risks staying in the union. No honest person could deny it. Again you assert that nationalists see "England" as responsible for all out troubles; more evidence free nonsense I'm afraid. Once again, Scotland isn't going to turn into paradise overnight; none of us ever said it would; we just feel that given control over all aspects of policy we could do a better job, set our own (possibly different) priorities, and be responsible for our own destinies. Both our successes and our failures will be our own.

      We "get" that you have an atavistic urge to talk Scotland down; so strong is your cringe that you have to conjure a future of failure, of being like Bulgaria or Slovakia (I suppose we should be thankful it wasn't Zimbabwe?). For your information, the most recent polls show a pro-indy majority already exists, and is even stronger in the event of a "Leave" vote in the brexit referendum. I'm glad you're so sure of yourself and the chances for independence; your condescension and self delusion really help.

    2. You do also realise that depending on the size of company and value of the tenders, what you "say" your board is doing potentially infringes the law? Excluding companies based in Scotland on what seem like pretty spurious reasons is no more justifiable than excluding those from other countries in the EU. Assuming you aren't just making it up, I hope the board know what they are doing...?

    3. ndls61, an English company can discriminate against a Scottish company and the other way around because they are both from the same EU member state.

    4. "I can only imagine the unionist outrage if Scottish firms were found to be excluding English firms on the grounds they opposed independence!"

      Except the author didn't say they opposed independence, only what in effect would be unlimited downside to any investment in Scotland in the event of independence. Businesses come and go by their own lights and they do not like risks they cannot manage. Their shareholders will not thank them for ignoring such risks. The independence narrative, which the SNP are now hostage to, has consequences. As outrage goes, it is a shame many failed to take a more lighthearted view of marketing a teacake.

      "we just feel that given control over all aspects of policy we could do a better job"

      All aspects? Like setting interest rates???

  7. No, not making it up and it doesn't please me either, but I am lower down the food chain in a big business and can only argue against this attitude. They would see it as a purely commercial decision, in the same way that they don't place the payroll business with an Irish company. There is nothing to stop Scots firms bidding for work, it is just that they are unlikely to get the business any more. And to be fair, when I was working in Aberdeen some 30-odd years ago I remember my employer weeding out an English firm from a bid on the grounds that it was 'too far away and they are English'. If the Anglo-Scots border becomes an international one the impact will be much worse on trade - that is just human nature and there is plenty of evidence of the impact of borders, regardless of what the EU Commission may wish.

    I am sorry to have upset you with my comments, but you ought to face the reality that Scotland will have a major adjustment to make if it does go independent and my impression judging from my colleagues, is that there will be no great reservoir of goodwill, just relief. I think you are right though. It is now seems fairly clear that short term reductions in spending following independence and the impact on cross-border trade will cause serious internal political and economic stresses in Scottish society for the first decade or three. Until these issues are addressed, together with unresolved fundamentals such as EU membership, currency and debt sharing I do fear that we would be faced with a very unhappy and perhaps politically unstable country.

    Tired cliches about talking Scotland down are just trite and out-dated. I want Scotland to be successful and prosperous, but there is a total lack of hard evidence or strategic planning that shows independence will achieve this (and I speak as someone who supported independence in 1979 and spent many years advocating the case). It conceivably could be done (like Singapore), but I just don't see that Scots will be prepared to put up with the radical social changes and economic hardships concerned as the welfare state would need to be largely switched off. Nationalists have failed to make a convincing case that independence = a better future.

    The giveaway is your comment that 'Both our success and failures will be our own'. In other words independence is the only thing that matters and you would rather be poverty stricken but 'free'. That is a valid viewpoint, but despite your confidence I suspect that in the ballot booth there will never be quite enough voters willing to risk bread today for jam in a generation's time.