Wednesday 24 June 2020

More Scotland

The SNP recently commissioned a report entitled “Towards a robust resilient, wellbeing economy for Scotland”. I have no idea about the political affiliations of the group of authors, some may be independence supporters, others most likely are not. But they had a remit and that remit was of course to please Nicola Sturgeon. We all know what happens when someone says or writes something that displeases her. A few hours later they tend to have a change of heart.

Whenever there is a problem in the EU the European Commission demands one thing to solve it. More Europe. Well so too the solution to all of Scotland’s economic problems according to the report is, more Scotland.

The report’s first conclusion is that Scotland should be more financially autonomous, so that it can diverge still further from whatever approach the British Government takes.

This is within the context of the Scottish Government already spending considerably more than it earns in normal times but becoming even more reliant on the British taxpayer during the present crisis. The SNP demand that the Treasury furlough scheme continues beyond October. The report in effect is demanding that Scotland have still more autonomy to spend money raised outside of Scotland.  

Devolution is already lopsided enough because England has no devolution. It has led to four different approaches to the Covid crisis just so that the devolved administrations can be different.  It is neither robust nor resilient for a child to have autonomy over its parent’s credit card. It leads neither to the child’s wellbeing nor helps its grasp of economics.

The report’s authors expose themselves by suggesting in nearly every one of their recommendations that the Scottish Government should do something. It may be something that it does in conjunction with someone else, but it is always a state solution.

But the biggest problem we have in Scotland is precisely that too many Scots are employed by the state. The solution to every problem in Scotland is always that more public money should be spent on it. No one, not even the Scottish Conservatives, ever argues for a smaller state. But the way to make a country profitable is to be more like Switzerland and less like the Soviet Union. When businesses and people are left alone with as little interference from Government as possible, they are naturally innovative. When taxes are lowered, and state spending declines free market economics automatically makes a country richer. But not one word of this is mentioned in the report.

Scotland performs more poorly than Britain as whole because the state pays our wages. Public sector workers just recycle public money when we pay taxes. But it is private businesses that make things and sell the things that bring revenue. A country that only employed civil servants and bureaucrats would starve.

When the report talks about investment, its focus is on what Government can do rather that what private individuals and businesses should do to make companies profitable. For this reason, it advises the Scottish Government should take over the ownership of private companies that are facing difficulties due to Covid. But this would mean still more of Scotland would be publicly owned, when too much is publicly owned already. Nationalisation props up failing businesses with taxpayer’s money and is unlikely to bring a return on the investment.  If Governments were good at investing, they would nationalise the stock market.

The report concludes with ever more demands for increases in public spending to improve Scottish broadband and mobile phone networks, make Scotland still more environmentally friendly, help tourism and pay people to write bad plays and poor music.

The last thing Scotland needs is a National Arts Force. Creativity should not be paid for by the state. If someone cannot sell tickets to his play or get readers to buy his book, then he should find a job where he can earn a living that does not depend on subsidy. No one pays me to write. Tories are not subsidised in Scotland. The only people who are paid by the Scottish Government to create are independence supporters who couldn’t earn a penny otherwise.

Scotland will underperform compared to similar economies so long as most Scots think that the solution to all our problems is to be found with the Scottish Government spending ever more public money so that things are "free", i.e. paid for by someone else.  This is precisely the reason we live beyond our means and cannot afford independence.

Poverty is not the cause of people voting for left-wing parties it is the result. People who vote for the Left wait for the Government to solve their problems and make them better off. They wait for Government to give them things rather than working for them. Not one country in the world made a penny from passivity. The report and its authors are part of the problem rather than the solution.

Because Scottish wages are paid by the state rather than from the profits of a company and we will drag our feet as much as we can out of lockdown. We will find any excuse possible not to teach in schools and universities. We will keep our pubs shut even when the English are getting drunk.  This is why the damage to the Scottish economy will be much greater than in England. It will take us longer to recover.  

Independence supporters may delight in Nicola Sturgeon showing how independent she is from Boris, but every extra day we stay in lockdown due to Sturgeon’s caution or desire to be different will make it that much more impossible to achieve independence.

The demand for independence from SNP voters has become the primary reason why Scotland underperforms. Every Scottish business every year is faced with the possibility of the most drastic change imaginable with its largest market, the other parts of Britain. This uncertainty is unceasing. Every person who doesn’t wish to live in an independent Scotland, whether here or elsewhere, wonders whether it is a good idea to come to Scotland or to stay. It makes long term decision making about jobs, mortgages and children's education quite impossible, because the SNP continually make the future uncertain for British people who live here or might chose to do so. 

If the Scottish Government wished to improve the wellbeing of the Scottish economy, it would rule out seeking independence for the foreseeable future. This would have a more beneficial effect than any report that it could commission. This, of course, is unmentioned by the present report. Can you imagine how Sturgeon would have responded if that had been the conclusion?

In Scotland we have been shielded from Covid not merely be being stuck at home, but also by Treasury spending that has meant we haven’t really noticed the economic cost yet. We will all notice that cost soon and then I fear for the rest of our lives. I hope this judgement turns out to be unduly pessimistic, but I doubt it.  

Whatever happens we will need innovative thinking and ideas that were common in the age of Adam Smith, but would now be thought of as unScottish. We need Conservatives to smash through the yellow wall and bring prosperity them. 

There is nothing of this in the report Sturgeon commissioned. It is dull, statist, unwilling to see Brexit advantages and is in fact the absolute opposite of what Scotland needs to recover from the worst economic crisis in centuries.

Britain has made mistakes since March, but the unity that meant that British money went where it is needed is something that we can build on. Devolution has become at best an irritant at worst a hindrance to the unified response that is so clearly necessary now. We need to rethink devolution and reject separatism. We need less Scotland not more.