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.