Wednesday 26 August 2020

Banging on about Gers helps the SNP


I used to think that “Gers” was a nickname for Rangers, then someone told me it had something to do with the Scottish economy. Each year GERS (Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland), shows the Scottish economy doing worse. Last year we spent more than we earned (deficit) by a huge amount, this year our deficit is even bigger. Some Pro UK politicians whoop for joy. Someone who has a great deal of expertise in these figures explains in intricate detail why these figures mean Scottish independence is now impossible and that they are a hammer blow for the SNP. But each year independence supporters neither read, nor understand, nor care about Gers. Each year support for independence gets higher especially after the latest Gers nail has been hammered into the SNP coffin. It’s really time we learned a different argument. This one isn’t effective.

The SNP learned a lesson sometime prior to the independence referendum in 2014. They learned that a positive argument is more effective than a negative argument.

The SNP argument is very simple and very powerful. It is this.

Scotland is a country.

Countries ought to be independent.

To most Scots it is undeniable that Scotland is a country. Well which countries ought not to be independent? Those that are too poor and second rate to be able to manage it? But even very poor places in the world like Chad and Vanuatu can manage independence. Is Scotland really so useless that we couldn’t do better than them?

This is the problem with the economic argument. It ends up being extremely negative about Scotland. Somehow out of all the countries in the world Scotland is just about the only one that ought not to be independent because we are too useless. The correct response to this is “We’ll show you.”

Why did Remain lose the referendum in 2016. It lost because it only told a negative story about Britain and not once made a positive case for the EU. I supported Brexit, but even I can make a good case for the EU. I would have told about how the EU could soon become a new United States with a European Statue of Liberty. How it would enable the people of Europe to become more closely related. How we would all marry each other and learn each other’s language. I would have talked about how we could create a new European people which would be stronger and freer than we would be apart. I would have talked about my dream that one hundred years from now we would no longer have national rivalries in Europe but that we would just be together as one. You might have disagreed with this, but at least it would have been positive.

What we got instead was relentless negativity about Britain. We were told by Remainers that Britain couldn’t possibly survive outside the EU. We were too weak, we were too poor and we were too stupid to manage. Lots of expert people who knew lots about economics told British people relentlessly that if we dared to leave the EU, we would be poorer. What was the result? The British people said, “We will show you”.

Not one single independence supporter will cease to support independence because of the Gers figures. Nor should they. If you really believe that Scotland ought to be an independent country, then you will think that it is worth going through difficulties to reach your goal. After all Poland was willing to lose 17% of its population and have its capital completely destroyed in order to maintain its independence in 1939. Whatever struggles Scotland would go through would be nothing compared to that.

Pro UK people have a right to point out that independence would be difficult and would in the short term make most of us poorer. There would have to be higher taxation and much lower public spending. But we do not have the right to suggest that people in Scotland could not manage. We could. We would have to.

My argument for Scotland remaining a part of Britain is simply this. Britain is one of the great countries. We have had a wonderful past. Some of the most important people in the world came from Scotland and Britain. We have historically made some mistakes and been on the wrong side of certain battles, but we have overwhelming done more good than harm. The world would have been a worse place if English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish people had not joined forces.

There is every reason to believe that by continuing our unity we will in the future continue to do good not merely for ourselves but for others too. We cooperate and we share our resources with each other. We don’t care if you are from Scotland or from England. There is a feeling of solidarity in Britain which means a taxpayer from Aberdeen is happy to pay for the NHS treatment of someone from Aberystwyth. We have this feeling of solidarity because we have been through much in the past centuries. We are family.

If the SNP were successful in separating Scotland from the rest of Britain. There would no longer be any solidarity. Scottish taxes would no longer help people in Wales or Northern Ireland. We would no longer be fellow citizens. We would no longer have a shared identity. This is why I oppose Scottish independence, not because we couldn’t become independent, but because we shouldn’t.

In the long run Gers figures are an irrelevance. In time and after some difficulties there is no reason to suppose that Scotland could not be a prosperous Northern European country. In the short run Scots have to be honest with each other. Even if I were an independence supporter, I would not choose this moment. I would wait until the Scottish economy was doing a bit better. My impatience to reach the promised land of an independent Scotland would cause quite a bit of misery for the poorest people in Scotland. This makes the desire a bit selfish. But this isn’t the most important argument.

The most important argument isn’t merely do you want Scotland to be independent. It’s do you want us to be separate from the other people living in Britain. If Scotland was right now making a surplus and people in England were struggling would we really think we owed them nothing. I think we are better than that.

 Most of Europe is made up of countries that formerly were independent. Germany is made up of dozens if not hundreds of them. Most Europeans are happy that they gave up their former countries. Few if any Saxons long for the independence they lost in 1871. The Saxony National Party (SNP) does not exist. If German speaking Saxons prefer solidarity to separation, why don’t English speaking Scots?