Thursday 15 October 2020

Scotland needs to wake from our fever


For the last few months there has been near constant polling on the question of Scottish independence. Why? There has been no date set for a second independence referendum. The Conservatives in their election winning manifesto ruled out such a referendum. We are experiencing the worst pandemic in decades if not more. The UK Government is spending like Corbyn on steroids and the National Debt is fast approaching 100% of GDP. We have no idea how long Covid will remain dangerous. We don’t even really know if we are in the first wave or the second, nor do we know how many waves there will be. So why are we continually polling about a referendum that is equally as mysterious as Covid.

For the past six years we have been promised a second independence referendum every few months. At some point or other Nicola Sturgeon has put on her best angry face and demanded another chance. But all we know is that it hasn’t happened yet.

Could there be another independence referendum in 2021? We don’t even know if there will be a Scottish Parliament election. It all depends on Covid. After all, if we are all locked down in our homes, we might struggle to vote let alone campaign.

So, we are polling about something that might not happen next year and indeed might not happen at all. It all depends apparently on whether the SNP win a majority at the Scottish Parliament elections that might not happen. After that it depends on whether Boris Johnson would feel sufficient pressure from such a victory to allow the SNP to have another chance.

But we already know that when Nicola Sturgeon asked Theresa May for a second referendum and May said No, the sky did not fall in. No doubt Sturgeon and various Scottish journalists thought that May was under great pressure. But she still said “No”. If May can say “No” what would prevent Johnson? The anger of Scottish journalists?

Is there a genuine desire for Scottish independence at the moment? It’s actually rather hard to judge. Lots of people in Scotland are angry about their being a Tory Government. Lots are angry about Brexit. Many think that Nicola Sturgeon is doing a good job with Covid.  But no one has heard any arguments. The SNP has not put forward a new plan that takes into account Covid and the present circumstances of the Scottish economy. No one with a high profile has set out a counter argument. So, the people being polled are completely uninformed about the reality of Scottish independence. You might as well poll them on brain surgery or else nuclear physics.

 We are also in a fever. In the final part of her novel Pale Horse, Pale Rider Katherine Anne Porter depicts the fever of Spanish influenza in 1918. She catches the way the sick person is disoriented, dreaming and unaware of reality, but wakes from the pandemic unable to escape the reality that had been lost with the fever.

We too have lost all sense of reality during Covid. The lucky ones like me have been able to work from home. The strangeness for us is merely that we haven’t seen colleagues for months. But who knows which jobs are secure and which are not? I couldn’t possibly guess what is round the corner economically.

Cinema chains are going bankrupt because no one wants to risk going out to see a film. Universities may end up teaching everything virtually with students staying at home. Some may go bankrupt because of this model. Pubs and restaurants may not survive the crisis. The whole way we work may be different including the end of the office and the commute.

At the moment many of us are being subsidised by furlough or its latest variation, but this just keeps us in the feverish state. The Chancellor may not be approaching the limit of stimulus yet, but Britain’s national debt is already too large to be paid back. It can only be managed by growth or more likely by being gradually inflated away, but this makes those who are lending to the Chancellor mugs. They will get back less than the lend. So how long will they keep lending. For the moment, yes, but not forever.

So, we must wake from our fever some time.

Do we find as in the novel that the pale horse has visited and taken away the young soldier we were in love with? What too will be left in Scotland when the waves of Covid have finished their destruction. Your, job? My job? The value or your house? The viability of her business?

I honestly have no idea what businesses will survive, and which won’t. If we stay locked down or semi locked down for a year or two years, what jobs will there be for students finishing university? Will we be able to afford all of the public spending that we are used to? If the recession that we are in continues and deepens what will we wake up to when it’s over?

I remain optimistic. We have survived worse than this, but I am also scared for the future of the British economy and the standard of living we are used to. It isn’t inevitable that these things continue. Not every country has a welfare state as generous as ours. You can’t shut down your country for one or two years and it not have an effect.

So why do we have continual polls about Scottish independence? Don’t we have a few more important things to worry about?

If I were Boris Johnson and Nicola Sturgeon asked about a second independence referendum, I would laugh out loud. I would point out that now was not the right time given that we were still in the pandemic or else dealing with the after effects and that the present Government had better things to do than indulge separatism.

But Nicola Sturgeon is shrewd enough to realise that trying to establish a new sovereign nation state after the wreckage that the Covid waves will bring with it, would not merely be foolish, it would be impossible.

Britain’s national debt because of Covid will soon top 100% of GDP. The SNP may think that Scotland can begin with zero debt, but the British Government’s condition for the possibility of Scottish independence and a second referendum would certainly be that Scotland accepted a proportional share of the debt. But this alone make Scottish independence impossible to achieve. No new country could be financially viable under those circumstances because the market would be unwilling to lend at an acceptable rate. Scotland would be in a debt spiral before it had a chance to start.

The polling therefore is quite academic and under the present circumstances about something that simply cannot happen. Come back in a few years when the British economy has recovered somewhat.

At the moment it matters not one little bit if the SNP win all the seats at Holyrood and 100% of Scots except me tell pollsters that they want independence. Sorry folks it isn’t going to happen until we all get over our present Covid fever and when we do, we will look around and find we have more important things to occupy ourselves with than pollsters.