Friday 30 April 2021

Only England can afford independence


There is something odd about independence movements in the UK. They are all in parts of the UK that can’t afford it. The one part of Britain that makes a profit, the South of England, has no secession movement at all and England as a whole shows minimal desire to ditch Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, though it would save money if it did so.

The Institute for Government recently published some figures which tell us that the English taxpayer subsidises the other three parts of the UK.

But somehow this is either not believed or not taken into account when voters in those parts express a desire to leave. The figures available are for 2018/19, which is the year before the pandemic began. They will be much worse for 2020/2021 during which the Treasury has massively subsided all of us through furlough and support for businesses that could not open due to lockdown.


The public sector deficit per person is:

Northern Ireland    £5,118

Wales                    £4,412

Scotland               £2,543

England                £91


This means that England was making a slight loss, Scotland rather a large loss and Wales and Northern Ireland were making a huge loss.

One of the reasons for this is that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland spend much more per person than England does.

Public spending per person is:

Northern Ireland   £15,182

Scotland                £14,850

Wales                   £14,032

England                £12,864


If either Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland were to leave the UK then it would have to make up the loss of UK money either by borrowing, taxing, cutting spending or growing the economy. It’s hard to see how the standard of living of people living in these places could be maintained. Independence by itself brings in no money at all.

Public spending makes up a lower percentage of GDP in England than the other parts of the UK. Public spending is higher in Scotland and much higher in Wales and Northern Ireland.

But this makes these economies more dependent on Government expenditure which would be the one thing that would have to be cut if they were to leave the UK. It’s much easier for a country to make a profit if it has lots of private companies making a profit. The Welsh and Northern Irish state sector looks in particular looks unsustainable if either left the UK.

While Scotland and England raise a similar amount in taxation (around £12,000 per person), Wales and Northern Ireland raise considerably less (slightly less than £10,000). Scotland’s problem if we want to become independent is primarily that public spending is too high. Any party that was serious about independence would be trying to reduce spending while growing the economy. But the SNP are doing the opposite to this and intend to increase spending massively in the years ahead. It may win support this way and may even win support for independence, but it is simply increasing Scotland’s deficit and making us ever less ready for independence by making us ever more dependent on the UK taxpayer.

If the idea of independence is to make a country richer then the only part of the UK that would actually end up richer is England.

Surplus deficit 2018/2019

England                 surplus 2.3%

Scotland               deficit 5.1%

Wales                   deficit 14.3%

Northern Ireland   deficit 15.8%

These figures will be considerably worse now.

Scotland’s position is financially rather worse than it was in 2014 and independence would involve considerably more difficulty now that the UK has left the EU and independence would most likely involve a hard border.

The SNP are in effect asking Scots to accept large public spending cuts, higher taxes, the problems involved in using the pound unofficially or perhaps creating a new Scottish currency, plus trade barriers with our largest trade partner the former UK in order that all decisions would be made in Holyrood rather than some of them continuing to be made in Westminster. Initially at least Scotland would have to be poorer because the fiscal transfers from the Treasury would cease. If you deny that there are such fiscal transfers then you deny that the Institute for Government knows what it’s talking about.

For Wales independence is at present simply a nonstarter. It is extraordinary that it has increased in popularity as it has become less and less practical. Wales is already poorer than both Scotland and England and would become massively poorer if it chose independence.

Northern Ireland is unlikely to seek independence which puts it in a different situation. Clearly independence for Northern Ireland is no more possible than for Wales. It depends too much on UK money. But if Northern Ireland were to leave the UK it would be in order to join the Republic of Ireland. In that case either Northern Ireland would have to see huge cuts in public spending, increases in taxation or the Republic of Ireland would have to take on the burden of subsidy.

The UK pays over £10 Billion per year to Northern Ireland, but that’s more than Ireland spends on Education at present and would amount to about a tenth of the Irish budget. It’s one thing for more than 60 million people to subsidise Northern Ireland, it’s another for less than 5 million.

We have seen lately that some Protestants in Northern Ireland are willing to riot because of a nominal regulator border down the Irish Sea. Would they be liable to behave better or worse if a close border poll saw a united Ireland without their consent? How much would it cost Ireland to police any Troubles that arose from unity. Would the Irish Army have the resources and the skill to control such Troubles? How much would that cost?

In economic terms only England can afford independence and particularly the South of England, which would become one of the wealthiest parts of Europe if it could only ditch the rest of us. England would lose the reputation and soft power that is associated with the UK and would gain neighbours that would initially at least be much poorer than it. It would be the equivalent of Russia losing the less productive parts of the Soviet Union. The re-emergence of England might be no more beneficial than the re-emergence of Russia.

But in the case of each part of the UK prosperity after secession would depend on the decisions of future governments. The most likely route to prosperity is small state, low taxation, low regulation free market capitalism, which might be possible in an England dominated by Tories. It is the rejection of this and the SNP’s desire for high public spending that would keep Scotland poor until it rediscovered Adam Smith.

The loss of the United Kingdom would be devastating for those parts that at present depend on UK subsidy. Scottish independence can only happen with massive spending cuts, but if that is what Scots want why do we vote for the SNP that gives us spending increases? Northern Ireland can only viably leave the UK if Ireland can pick up the tab, but that depends on Ireland introducing tax rises and spending cuts to pay for their northern cousins some of whom might pay them back with bombs. It’s hard to see how sensible Welsh people can even contemplate independence. Who would pay for Wales?

The only part of the UK that can afford independence is thankfully willing to stick with the rest of us even when large numbers of us bite it. But there is no serious England Independence Party perhaps because English people can see how the UK has benefited not just them but all of us. The loss of being British would diminish us in ways that cannot be added up on a balance sheet.


Thursday 29 April 2021

Is the Union voluntary?


In a recent debate Douglas Ross was asked “Is the Union voluntary?” and failed to give a convincing answer. The point of the question of course is that either answer he might give is problematic for his argument. If he says the Union is voluntary, then how can he oppose indyref2? If he says the Union is not voluntary, he will be accused of being antidemocratic and turning the Union into a prison. Faced with such a dilemma the natural response of a politician is to waffle and avoid answering the question.

The correct response is to point out that there is no Union, there are no unionists and therefore the question of whether it is voluntary or not is redundant. But this answer may have got Mr Ross into even more trouble, because many if not most Scots on both sides of the constitutional divide assume that there is a Union. Unfortunately, it is this assumption that gives the SNP it’s best arguments.

It is simply historically mistaken to say that there is now a Union between Scotland and England or that the relationship between the four parts of the UK is similar to that between the 27 member states of the EU. The Acts of Union in 1706 and 1707 merged the Kingdom of Scotland and the Kingdom of England into the Kingdom of Great Britain. This is essentially no different from how the Kingdoms of Wessex, Mercia etc merged to form England and how the Kingdoms of Lothian, Dalriada etc merged to form Scotland. These processes happened in most European countries. France united in the same way as did Spain.

The United part of United Kingdom refers only to the relationship between Great Britain and Ireland. People who favoured this were historically called unionists. At this point there was no debate at all about the relationship between Scotland and England. The Unionist part of Conservative and Unionist does not refer to Scotland and England at all but merely reflects traditional Tory support for the Union of the crowns of Great Britain and Ireland. Unionist is about Irish politics, not Scottish politics. It has sectarian connotations because of this and therefore has nothing to do with those Scots who could not care less if someone is Protestant, Catholic, Hindu or Taoist.

The truth is that the UK is a unitary sovereign nation state in exactly the same way as France. The only difference is that while people who live in Burgundy probably don’t think of themselves as Burgundian and certainly don’t think that Burgundy is a country let alone a sovereign nation state, people in Scotland, do think this. They think it precisely because they think the UK is a union.

Once you concede that the UK is a union like the EU, then you concede the argument. If Scotland is a country just like France and the UK is the equivalent of a mini-EU made up of four countries, then it follows of itself not only that this union ought to be voluntary, but that each part should choose independence. What sort of second-rate country would Scotland be that it couldn’t manage to be independent, when Vanuatu, Chad and Moldova can manage?

The same argument of course could be made about Mercia and Lothian if they were thought still to be the kingdoms that they once were. If Vanuatu, which is much smaller and poorer than Lothian can manage independence, why can’t Lothian or even Midlothian?

There is nothing pathetic about Burgundy, Bavaria or Sicily being content to be parts of their respective countries. But this is only because they ceased at some point to think of themselves as countries.

There is no issue of it being voluntary or not for a part of France to secede because France thinks of itself as single country rather than a country made up of four countries. If someone asked a French politician is the union of France voluntary, the question would be met with bemusement, but there are just the same historical treaties of union that were made to form the Kingdom of France as were made to form the Kingdom of Great Britain, it’s just no one in France thinks that France still is a union, for that would be to imply the possibility of separation. Even Corsica conquered by France in 1769 has no choice but to stay. No one asked the people of Elsaß-Lothringen whether they wanted to return to France after World War One and Two. But no one thinks that the unity of France is involuntary. The issue of voluntariness simply does not arise.

Neither France nor any other European country would give a referendum on independence to a part. There is a good reason for this. The borders of many European countries are contentious. There are parts of Slovakia and Romania which have Hungarian speaking majorities. The South Tyrol in Italy has a German speaking majority. If given the choice, it is likely that the people in these countries would choose to join Hungary and Austria. But to revisit the boundaries of Europe that resulted from the two World Wars the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939 and the fall of the Soviet Union would be to invite chaos and perhaps war. For this reason, there is no voluntary secession in Europe.

Only in the UK do we have elections which question the existence of our country. It would be better by far if we treated the UK as the French treat France as indivisible. But this would mean we would have to give up the idea that Scotland is somehow separate from the other parts of the UK. It is this sense of being a separate country which gave rise to the demand for a Scottish Parliament because it was considered somehow unjust that Scotland didn’t always get the UK Government it voted for. It was this that gave rocket fuel to nationalism and the SNP. If Scotland is such a separate country that it needs its own Parliament, which is what the devolutionists believed, then why shouldn’t it be independent? Why indeed? We are left with mere bribes and the contingency that Scotland would be worse off after independence. But why should that trouble someone who thinks Scotland is separate enough to deserve its own Parliament? Why not have a proper one rather than a subordinate devolved one? There isn’t really a good argument except we are better off financially in the UK. But this is always going to be a poor argument against the passions of Scottish nationalism. It depends on keeping Scotland poor and on Scots not working hard to make Scotland rich. If the inventor of the next major innovation, like Google or Amazon, is a Scot then the SNP win the argument.  

So long as most Scots think Scotland is a separate country and most other British people agree, then the “Union” will be voluntary. It would be better if we thought like the French and other European nations, but we don’t. It was for this reason that David Cameron granted an independence referendum. The Union was voluntary, we chose to remain in it. That too is a good answer that Mr Ross might have given. Whether it should be continually voluntary whenever the SNP want a referendum is a different matter. We have already granted to separatists more than anyone else would by allowing them one referendum. But once you grant the principle it is really only a matter of time until the SNP gets another go if it keeps winning elections. This is because most Scots even those who are Pro UK share the SNP’s assumption about Scotland being a separate country. Are you still keen to be a Unionist? It gives the SNP what they want in the end.

If the SNP won independence, then it would refuse, if it could, to allow those parts of Scotland to secede which voted to remain in the UK. No one would ask if being a part of Scotland was voluntary because the nationalist assumption shared by most Scots would be that Scotland has a unity and a right to territorial integrity that the UK lacks. This is assumed by nearly everyone in Britain. This is why we are threatened by separatists and no one else is.

Scotland’s place in the UK is secure enough at the moment. While the SNP may win a majority at Holyrood, the path to independence is difficult while Scotland is making a loss and depends on the Treasury to sustain our standard of living.  Would enough Scots be willing to take a pay cut, a hard border and uncertainty about currency just so our country could be truly separate? Who knows? But both sides of the argument would be taking a big risk, which makes it something of a Mexican standoff.

If the SNP lost twice, there would be no question that the Union was voluntary and that we had chosen twice to stay. The SNP would plead for a third try the day after losing indyref2, but the patience of everyone else must require at some point that we accept that the UK is one nation indivisible, that there is no union, there are no unionists and we are not four countries, but only one. That in the end is only way to stop separatism. If we will have to choose eventually or else suffer permanent instability, then we might as well choose it now. Is the Union voluntary? There is no Union. There is no secession.

Tuesday 27 April 2021

I could even mislead Parliament if I was in Scotland


If Boris Johnson were First Minister of Scotland and leader of the SNP, he wouldn’t have to worry about the cost of decorating his flat, nor would he need to worry about remarking in a meeting about bodies being piled high. In Scotland it is necessary to text small boys before you are pressured in to resigning and only after the SNP does all it can to prevent the story coming out. Even then the person forced to resign remains loyal to Sturgeon and the SNP. The payment for silence is usually a quick welcome back into the SNP. The payment for making a nuisance of yourself may be that there is a police investigation, an attempt to find witnesses who will tell all about what you did and when you did it, a court case and if you are unlucky a long-term visit to the big hoose at Bar L. Funnily enough we don’t have too many whistle-blowers or former advisors looking for revenge in Scotland.

I haven’t been bothered to follow the story of the redecoration of Boris and Carrie’s flat in any great detail, nor indeed his alleged remarks about trying to avoid lockdown and it being worth letting bodies pile high to do so. The broadcast news is filled with stories that will be forgotten next month let alone next year, but still, we have to go through the ritual of journalists swooping on gossip like seagulls trying to snatch your sandwich. They will tire of it after all and look for their next victim. A little wile ago it was the unnamed royal who might have made a dodgy remark about race (swoop, snap, bite). A bit before they were obsessed with ventilators (flap, squeal, peck). Next month it will be something else and someone else, but the significance of the press coverage will rarely rise above mere squawking.

It may have been beneficial if we had locked down earlier in 2020 and it certainly would have helped if we had stopped people flying here from where there were lots of cases such as China and Italy. But I recall no one in the press or on TV suggesting that we do so. The Conservative Government had a difficult start to the crisis and no doubt made mistakes, but Britain is now in one of the best positions in the world. We are coming out of lockdown, there are few cases and almost no deaths. Instead of focussing on what matters we talk about redecoration and a chance remark in the heat of the moment.

No one in the press suggested that Britain should go it alone in procuring vaccines. If we had done what the SNP suggested and stuck with the EU, we would today be no better off than the average EU country still stuck in lockdown with months to go before we could get out. The decision made by Boris Johnson has saved thousands of British lives and will save our economy billions of British pounds, but let’s worry about the cost of painting his flat.

I cannot remember the last remark that Nicola Sturgeon made during a cabinet meeting that was leaked by anyone. Even official meetings are unminuted. Scottish civil servants and special advisors far from leaking what Sturgeon says cannot even remember what was said, where they were or indeed what planet they were living on. The Scottish Government has a tame Crown Office to prevent anything that might possibly be damaging to Sturgeon from being seen by an inquiry. She has a tame press corps too who are more like budgerigars fluttering round her head tweeting pleasantly than the ravenous seagulls from down south.

In Scotland we can fail to build a hospital, we can pay a fortune for ferries that don’t float, and we can have the same sort of dodgy meetings with Greensill as David Cameron had, but we can never quite get into a flap about it let alone a squawk. Imagine if the likely successor to Boris Johnson was caught sending dubious texts to a teenage boy and that the Prime Minister tried to prevent the story getting to the press. Would the press be more or less excited than they are now? But in Scotland Mr MacKay is not followed by the press. No one much cares that he claims Holyrood expenses though he does not sit in the building and no one at all is very interested that Sturgeon hoped to cover the whole thing up.

If the battle between Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon had taken place in England it would have been the biggest political story in decades. There would have been an impartial judge compelling all evidence was provided. If an inquiry had said that the Prime Minister had misled Parliament, he would certainly have resigned. But in Scotland not merely did Sturgeon not resign, Labour and the Lib Dems thought she ought not to.

It cannot be that both Sturgeon and Salmond were innocent. If one of them is telling the truth, the other must be lying. One or other of their conduct was reprehensible. But the Scottish electorate has already not merely forgiven, it is as if it has completely forgotten and wants both Salmond and Sturgeon to be elected to Holyrood as if the reputation of neither is unstained. It’s like Jeremy Thorpe had a dog shot, nobody cared, and he kept on leading like nothing had happened.

Sturgeon thinks Boris should resign because of a remark that if she had made it would never have been leaked. Has she never once in private, due to exasperation or anger said something to a colleague that she later regretted and hoped would not be discovered by the rest of us? Which of us hasn’t? Boris’s alleged remark is merely the equivalent of my saying “I will arrive come Hell or high water”. It doesn’t mean I expect either Hell or high water. I am using hyperbole. Only a press that takes everything literally could think that anyone was proposing literally to pile bodies high.

In Scotland you can allegedly try to have your predecessor jailed and mislead Parliament about it, in England Boris Johnson has just been arrested because on returning home from a busy day he said that he could murder a cup of tea and his former special advisor called the police on the grounds that cups of tea matter and attempting to murder them is a crime.

Sunday 25 April 2021

The hard border job creation scheme


It’s 2025 and I’m about to begin my latest journey to Berwick upon Tweed. Every month or so since independence I’ve had to get up early so that I can get to a giant hypermarket that has been built just over the border. But it would be unfair to suggest that the hard border between England and Scotland has only created jobs in England. Scotland has gained jobs too. Emma Harper though much ridiculed in 2021 was right. A hard border does create jobs.

It turned out not to be possible for Scotland to use Pound Sterling unofficially. The only way that we could be economically viable was for us to have our own central bank that could print our own currency. At this point Zimbabwe born Scottish Green politician Maggie Chapman after campaigning for Scottish independence decided that it was safer to return to the land of her birth as did her colleague and co-leader Lorna Slater who was careful to transfer all her British pounds to Canadian dollars prior to separation occurring. When asked if she would be campaigning for Ontario to be independent, she declined to comment. Environmentalism apparently only requires independence for Scotland, not that the Scottish Greens are hypocrites or opportunists of course.

The problem for those of  us who remained in Scotland however was not merely that the Scottish pound fell in value against Sterling, but that the supply chain that had up to now kept our supermarkets economically viable was disrupted to the extent that Tesco etc decided that it was not worth trying to continue running supermarkets in Scotland.

Each and every product except haggis, whiskey and white puddings came to us via an English port or an English road. Unfortunately divorce negotiations with the former UK went rather badly. They got off to a bad start when the SNP negotiators refused to accept a population share of UK debts and continued to deteriorate as the former UK decided to imitate how the EU negotiated after Brexit. The result was a no deal Scexit.

During the immediate period after the referendum many Scots and much Scottish money had fled south of the border. The former UK decided that it would not allow Scots to be dual British Scottish citizens, not least because the considerable cost of paying benefits and healthcare to Scottish refugees. The result was that people like me who chose to remain British citizens had to apply for leave to remain in Scotland. All those EU citizens who voted for the SNP likewise had to apply for leave to remain too. Just as in 2014 Nicola Sturgeon threatened that they might lose the right to live in Scotland if the EU did not cooperate with Scotland’s membership application. Only then did these EU citizens realise that their present leave to remain was given by the UK, for which reason voting for the SNP was rather foolish.

As I approached the border at Berwick, I saw numerous offices advertising how they would help Scottish citizens to obtain a visa to the former UK. It was complex and rather expensive, but at least it had created some jobs in Scotland. I also saw various shops that had been established for those Scots who were unable like me to make the run to Berwick. Scottish entrepreneurs had bought goods in Berwick and transported them to Scotland and with a slight markup were able to deliver them to those Scots who were unable to make the crossing.

There was usually a long queue at the border. It was hard to predict where it would be worst. Sometimes the former UK authorities were particularly careful in checking cars and lorries to make sure that they fulfilled every requirement. Sometimes the border was simply closed for no apparent reason. Some facilities had developed where we could have some coffee, something to eat or even sleep. Someone could be paid to watch your place in the queue. In fact, the job creation opportunities of the queue were almost limitless. Whenever there was a gap in the market that could make the experience of queuing just a bit more pleasant, some clever businessmen set up shop by the side of the road.

The guards at the border were particularly grateful on both sides for the job opportunity that the SNP had given to them. The job satisfaction they obtained from looking for the slightest error in a visa or in the forms required to be filled so that shopping or freight could be transported was obvious. Not one unauthorized haggis was going to get through if they could help it.

But Emma Harper’s job creation scheme turned out not merely to beneficial to the border region, the whole of Scotland gained in multiple ways. More petrol stations had to be created for all those Scots who had to make the long journey to Berwick or Carlisle. Unfortunately, we polluted rather more too, but the Scottish Greens reflected that it was worth it so long as we were independent. All those cars making the run to England wore out more quickly, so we needed more car dealers. Unemployed Scots used the opportunity to offer to clean the windscreens with squeegees of car drivers stuck in traffic jams, which not only provided them with a steady income but gave them the chance to be in the fresh air, so long as they kept away from the exhaust pipes.

Poor Emma had been ridiculed about currency and then ridiculed about her border job creation scheme, but she was right.  I could pay for my goods with Scottish pounds in Berwick by giving the same piece of plastic that I had used prior to independence. It may have cost me ten Scottish pounds to buy one English pound, but I felt a warm glow that it was Scottish. It may have meant that my house valued in pound Sterling could no longer be used to buy a house of a similar size anywhere else in the world except perhaps Zimbabwe (I could be Maggie’s neighbour), but who would want to leave an independent Scotland anyway when the border queue was not merely a source of jobs but also a source of wealth.

Emma Harper’s job creation scheme in fact was working so well that she argued that Scotland should create borders between Glasgow and Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee. It would make up for the decline in North Sea oil. Who needs oil when we can create borders?




Friday 23 April 2021

The Scottish trenches

Scotland since 2014 reminds me of the trench warfare of the Western Front. On the one side we have the Germans led by Nicola von Stürgeon on the other we have the French (Labour), the British (Conservatives) and the Belgians (Lib Dems) who each have territories they defend, who each need the others to defeat the Germans, but who are unwilling to merge their forces into one army. The result is stalemate.  

I have minimal trust in opinion polling, and I have even less now that we discover that Savanta Comres mucked up its calculations so that it overstated support for independence during the winter. But for all inability of polls to predict, they are the only way we have of gauging opinion between elections. So we are stuck with them like the Romans with chicken entrails until someone invents a better way of predicting the future.  

The latest constituency polling is as follows: 

 SNP     Con        Lab     Lib Dem 


46%     25%     20%     6% (Comres) 

49%     21%     21%     6% ((Yougov) 

 Some people think that it is impossible for the Pro UK parties to work together. They have different interests, appeal to different types of voter. Labour and Lib Dems it is argued would prefer to vote SNP than vote Tory. But this is really the argument that we will continue to charge at barbed wire even when we know we can’t win that way, just for the sake of it.  

If the Pro UK parties only minimally cooperated by standing down their candidates where they have no chance of winning, it would give the voter a clear choice either back the separatist, back the Pro UK party or stay at home. It would be better still if the forces merged. The Pro UK vote would then be 51% (Comres) or 48% (Yougov). This would either beat the SNP or be very close to doing so.  

We are told that a single Pro UK party in Scotland could never happen, nor that parties can cooperate because it would alienate their own support and give ammunition to the SNP. But voters in Northern Ireland tend to support the Unionist or Nationalist party that has the best chance of winning in each constituency. Each side of the constitutional argument works out how best to maximise its vote and usually succeeds in doing so.  

There is a ceiling of support for both Labour and the Conservatives. Neither can rise much about 25%. It is simply to accept defeat or at best stalemate not to change tactics.  

But von Stürgeon when contemplating her attack looks out from her dugout at barbed wire and shell holes filled with Yellow Cross (mustard) and Green Cross (Phosgene) gas. The problem she has is not so much gaining a majority at the Scottish Parliament. The SNP may not gain an overall majority in May, but they are still on course to gain a working majority with the help of the Greens.  

The problem for the SNP is that while they can win elections, it is not at all clear that they can use that to win independence. 

Polling for independence is as follows: 

 Yes     No     Undecided 


45%     48%     8% (Comres) 

39%     45%     10% (Yougov) 

It is extraordinary that so many Scottish voters vote for the SNP even though they don’t want independence. The same poll by Yougov suggests that 10% of SNP voters don’t want independence. Are they somehow unaware that the SNP are campaigning for this? It might be possible for a Pro UK voter to choose the SNP on the grounds that it is good at extorting money from the British Government by continually threatening independence. But this only works if you think that the SNP doesn’t mean it, that talk of indyref2 is merely a bluff and that von Stürgeon doesn’t actually want to make the attack for independence, because she knows it would leave her and Scotland hanging on the old, barbed wire of austerity, high taxes and spending cuts. But even so Pro UK voters choosing the SNP is a brave strategy as it is the equivalent of the Billy Boys voting for Sinn Féin. 

The problem the SNP has is that every time there is an election it has to avoid as much as possible talking about the only thing most of its supporters are interested in. But if independence is a vote loser and motivates Pro UK people to vote, then how is the SNP to win an independence referendum when it would hardly be possible to avoid talking about independence? 

If it is true that even with the most favourable question “Should Scotland be an independent country?” Yes has the support of only 39% of voters, how much lower would it be if the question was fairer such as “Should Scotland remain in the UK or leave the UK?” If that question is considered too close to the EU referendum question it could be reworded using “depart” and “stay” or some other synonym.  

The problem the SNP faces is that Scottish voters may say that they support independence when there isn’t going to be an election anytime soon, but as soon as minds are concentrated, and the prospect becomes serious they back away. They want independence in theory but not in practice.  

There has been some talk mainly from commentators based in England of Boris Johnson allowing a snap indyref2 sometime soon. It is very easy if you wouldn’t have to live through it to play around with such ideas. No Pro UK person in Scotland would want to go through the threat to our country that we faced in 2014.  

Who would win such a referendum? I have no idea. We’d have a chance, so would the SNP. But we lack anyone to lead the campaign. We have the arguments, but I would not want to rely on Sarwar, Ross and Rennie to make them.

But if you are in stalemate situation, why give your opponent the chance to win? Giving von Stürgeon a referendum merely allows her to bypass our trenches and shell holes so that she can attack us in the rear.  

The Scottish nationalist forces are now divided, but the latest polling suggest that Alba will not add anything to von Stürgeon’s forces. Even if it did, Alba is the equivalent of a movement with premature ejaculation. It has lost all patience and wants to attack now immediately, without any preliminary foreplay or barrage. This is neither to be a considerate lover nor a sensible strategist.  

The SNP had united forces in 2014 but still failed in the race to the sea. It is for this reason that we ended up in Scotland’s version of trench warfare. Alba’s appeal to the medieval is the equivalent of bringing a trebuchet to an artillery fight. The combination of Green Cross & Yellow Cross gas may give Scottish nationalism a majority in Parliament, but it is not enough to win a referendum and certainly not enough to win an Alba style revolt or illegal referendum.

In the absence of anything better to do we continue to lob shells at each other during the present campaigning season, but the Spring Offensive will gain neither side much ground, no breakthrough for the cavalry to exploit and with the prospect of the same mud and barbed wire limiting all our horizons.  

Goodbye Bon Accord Street 

Farewell Union Square  

Scotland once was less divided, and my heart lies there. 



Monday 19 April 2021

A Salmond with Wings


The Scottish nationalist movement is not merely split in terms of leadership between Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon, it is more importantly split in terms of its vision for an independent Scotland. The SNP wants Scotland to use the pound unilaterally and to join the EU. Alex Salmond’s Alba proposes instead to seek EFTA membership and to almost immediately set up a Scottish currency.

Four European states are presently members of EFTA, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland. These four states are part of the European Single Market and Schengen Area, but are not part of the European Union Customs Union. Salmond then is arguing for the Norway option which appealed to some people as an option for the UK after Brexit.

Membership of EFTA would enable Scotland to trade freely with the EU. It would allow Scots to live and work in EU and EFTA member states. But it would do so at the cost of Scotland having to follow EU rules and regulations with no say whatsoever. It would be the equivalent of Scotland remaining in the UK but without any MPs at Westminster.

The argument that Scottish MPs are outnumbered and that we get Conservative Governments even when we don’t vote Conservative is the basis of the Scottish nationalist complaint about being in the UK, but EFTA would see us not so much outnumbered as not present at all in the decision making processes. It completely undermines the Scottish nationalist argument. If we cannot bear to be part of the UK where we have the same representation as every other British citizen how could we bear to be part of EFTA when we would have no representation at all in the EU decisions that would affect our lives. To complain about a democratic deficit in the UK while choosing a still greater democratic deficit looks like mere prejudice. Europe good, Britain bad.

Salmond hopes that EFTA membership would enable Scotland to avoid some of the consequences of EU membership such as a hard border between England and Scotland with customs and passport checks. He hopes that EFTA would allow Scotland to retain access to the UK internal market, be part of the UK customs union and remain a part of Common Travel Area which would allow free movement within the former UK and Ireland.

But the problem for Salmond is that membership of the EU Single Market requires Scotland to allow free movement between EU member states and Scotland. There would be no need for people to set up camps in Calais and cross the Channel in rubber boats. Once they had access to the EU, they could just get a flight to Glasgow and a train to London. It is for this reason that a future former UK Government might prefer to have passport and visa checks at the border between Scotland and England. EFTA does not change this.

The main objection to the UK remaining in the EU’s Customs Union was that it would have prevented the UK from making trade deals and would have required us to impose the EU’s Common External Tariff. The EU would have negotiated trade deals on behalf of the UK, but the UK would have had no say whatsoever about them. But if Scotland tried to be part of a UK customs union, the same logic would apply to Scotland. We would be a rule taker with relation to UK customs and would have to accept whatever trade deals the UK entered into and whatever tariffs the UK chose to apply.

But how in practice could Scotland accept both the rules that went with membership of the EU’s Single Market and the rules that would be necessary to remain closely aligned economically with the former UK. The rules might be incompatible, and Scotland would have no say either in relation to the former UK or the EU. It’s an odd kind of independence when do what you are told more than you did previously.

Brexit means that if Scotland chose EU membership it would mean that Scotland left the trade bloc with which we trade most (the UK) in order to trade freely with those we trade least (the EU) which was always senseless economically. EFTA is an attempt to straddle the EU and the UK, but at the consequence of having very little say in our relationship with either. Scotland would be standing on the middle of a seesaw with the former UK at one end and the EU at the other. The balancing act would be precarious at best and it is hard to see how it could be preferable to simply remaining in the UK.

Salmond’s idea of quickly creating a Scottish currency involves both advantages and disadvantages. A Scottish currency would allow Scotland to have its own monetary policy. The SNP plan would see the Bank of England set Scotland’s interest rates and Scotland would have no say whatsoever in its own monetary policy. A Scottish Central Bank would enable us to print Scottish pounds so it would be less likely that Scotland would go bust, but there would be more risk of Scotland having high inflation if we printed too many.

The main disadvantage is that a Scottish pound would most likely fall against pound Sterling which would mean that anyone with savings in UK pounds would see our purchasing power fall too. If UK pounds became Scottish pounds and the Scottish pound fell 20%, we would need more Scottish pounds to buy things in the former UK. Any Scot with sense would move all of his money to an English bank prior to independence. It would be impossible unfortunately to move houses, whose value would fall in relation to their price when we were part of the UK. Still we would move everything moveable. But such capital flight would make life rather difficult a Scottish Central Bank. It might have to introduce capital controls, which would encourage everyone to make sure they did all their moving prior to that.

It is not obvious how Scotland could remain part of former UK’s internal market if we had a different currency and if we were part of the EU Single Market while the former UK was not. Scotland would have different regulations from the former UK and there would be the cost of converting former UK prices into Scottish prices. Former UK citizens would be less likely to use banking or insurance in Scotland because it would involve using a different currency and accepting that the lender of last resort would be the Scottish Central Bank. Their money would be guaranteed by a foreign bank with no track record as opposed to the Bank of England with centuries of probity. The Scottish financial sector would therefore have to relocate southwards.

Salmond’s plan ruins the SNP’s argument that we should vote for independence because Scotland was dragged out of the EU against our will. It ruins it because Scotland would not join the EU, perhaps not for years, perhaps not ever. Disappointed Remainers must reflect that there is probably a significant proportion of Scottish nationalist opinion represented by Salmond and so there is no guarantee that if Scotland became independent that we would follow the Sturgeon path to the EU rather than the Salmond path to EFTA. We might go through all the struggle to gain independence only to end up neither Salmond nor Sturgeon, neither in the EU nor out. We would be a sort of fish with characteristics of a fowl and it is far from obvious that we could fly even if we had wings.

Brexit is causing problems for the Scottish nationalist argument, which is why Salmond just like in 2014 is trying to have the best of both worlds. But nothing either he or Sturgeon is offering equals staying in the UK. If you did not already support independence for nationalistic reasons, you would not choose either EU membership with the hard border that goes with it, or EFTA membership. Both offer no obvious economic advantages to Scotland simply because Scotland trades most with the UK. Salmond recognises this, which is why he is attempting a compromise. But a compromise between a fish and a foul is merely a mutant. A Salmond with Wings.

Saturday 17 April 2021

The SNP promises a horse with a horn


Since coming to power the SNP have been continually giving us free things. We got free prescriptions, then free university tuition. Now the SNP is promising us a four-day week, a universal basic income whether we work or not and even free bicycles.

But these things that are free in Scotland are not free in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Perhaps this is because taxes are substantially higher in Scotland than in the other parts of the UK. But taxes are not much higher, and the SNP has promised to freeze them. So how does the SNP propose to pay for these free bicycles?

If taxes in Scotland are not going to be raised, perhaps the SNP propose to cut spending on something else to afford our four-day week and universal basic income. But there has been no mention of cuts to anything at all. Perhaps the SNP thinks that Scottish business in the next few years will export substantially more or that Scottish wages will increase so much that tax income will grow because we are all going to be richer. But whether Scottish businesses sell more or pay higher wages is a matter for them, not the Scottish Government.

Is Scotland so much richer than the other parts of the UK that it is for this reason that we can afford to spend so much more on free things than they can? This is essentially what the SNP would have you believe. The SNP position is that Scotland contributes more to the UK budget than we take out. This means that Scotland far from receiving a subsidy from the British Government instead is a sort of cash cow sending Scottish money to London. The Barnett formula is poor compensation for Scottish money that goes to the UK. It is for this reason that Scotland would be richer and able to afford even more free things if we ditched the Barnett formula and ditched the UK.

This is the big lie at the heart of Scottish politics. It involves disbelieving all the official figures produced not only by the UK Government, but also by the Scottish Government. But it is fundamentally pointless citing figures about deficits and expenditure. The figures prevent us getting at the truth.

From what you know about Scotland does it appear to be substantially richer than other parts of the UK? Are we so much richer that we can afford free things that they can’t? What industries do we have that bring us vastly more tax income than other parts of the UK?

Scotland is more sparsely populated than anywhere else in the UK. If we were so much richer why don’t we attract people wanting to move here to share our wealth? But we neither attract particularly large numbers of people from other parts of the UK nor from abroad. There is no equivalent to London in Scotland with large numbers of people from all over the world. While the population of England has grown hugely since the Second World War, Scotland’s population has remained static. If it is Scottish wealth that is paying for our public services, why don’t more people want to move here? It cannot merely be because it is slightly colder here than in England.

Does Scotland have natural resources that the other parts of the UK lack? While parts of Scotland have excellent farmland much of it especially in the Highlands is neither productive nor profitable without subsidy. It might have been argued once that Scotland has oil, which the other parts of the UK don’t have, but the decline in the price of oil has made it much less economically viable to drill in the North Sea and the Scottish Greens propose that we cease drilling in ten years. Scotland has excellent scenery which attracts tourists, but it is hard to believe that Scotland earns more from the mountains than England does from London, Stratford, and York.

It is hard to think of any industry or resource that Scotland has that the rest of the UK lacks that could account for our being so much richer that we can subsidise them. But this is really the whole justification for the SNP’s argument that we can afford lots of free things and that we could continue to afford them after independence.

What I see around me is that Aberdeen is in decline. John Lewis and Debenhams are shutting. Union Street is full of pawn, vaping and mobile phone shops. Many of the small villages and towns are looking rather less prosperous than they did. Is your area doing any better? While I still see lots of cows, I see no obvious cash cow.

Those parts of Scotland that suffer from deprivation at the moment are hardly going to be contributing much in the way of taxation either to an independent Scotland or to the UK at present. But those parts of Scotland that used to be much wealthier such as Aberdeenshire are poorer than we were in 2014. Which new wealthy region of Scotland compensates for this?

The whole of Britain has struggled because of the pandemic. Much of Scotland is better off than parts of Wales, Northern Ireland, and the north of England, but the idea that we generate more taxation than London and the South and South East is scarcely credible.

The SNP argument is that while the poverty-stricken Londoners cannot afford free bicycles the affluent Scots can. While the inhabitants of Surrey cannot afford free prescriptions the mansion dwellers of Airdrie can. But this defies all common sense.

The south of England is obviously wealthier than most of Scotland, so it is clear this part of Britain raises more in taxation per head than Scotland does. From this it evident that the South of England cannot afford free bicycles only because the taxation it raises goes to Scotland to buy the bicycles instead.

But this makes the SNP argument amount to we will give you lots of free things that we can only afford because we get money from England, while at the same time despising the English for sharing their money with us, while continually demanding an independence referendum which would cut off the revenue that enables us to buy the free bicycles.

Either Nicola Sturgeon knows that the big lie about Scotland subsidising England is a lie or she believes it. If she knows it is a lie, then she is merely trying to trick the Scottish people to give up their free bicycles after independence by delivering the bicycles now. But in that case, she is liable to be blamed by those Scottish voters after independence when they realise there will be no more free bicycles or anything else.

But perhaps this is the point. Scotland would still be independent even if we would be worse off. There would be no going back even if the SNP promises turned out to be false.

The other alternative is that Nicola Sturgeon fully understands that Scotland is  subsidised by the UK and that therefore independence would make us worse off, but continually threatens it in order that the subsidy continues and increases so that we can buy ever more bicycles. The danger for her is that she constantly promises to deliver something she neither wants nor intends to deliver, by telling a big lie that her supporters believe, but which she knows to be false.

SNP supporters think that a land of free bicycles and getting money for not working is just a vote away. Who needs to work even four days a week if an independent Scotland would be so wealthy it could pay us all to do nothing? But those same supporters in the poorer parts of the central belt must look around them. Do they suppose the money which will allow them to do nothing will come from the closed shops, the boarded-up pubs or the Scottish cash cow that lives somewhere in Scotland next to a horse with a horn?




Thursday 15 April 2021

The Unity Pledge


It’s hard to imagine a bigger change to ordinary life in Scotland than if we voted for independence. This was the case in 2014, but at least then the UK was an EU member state and if Scotland had been able to join the EU soon after independence the former UK and Scotland would have both been member states following the same EU path to ever closer union. Perhaps we would have ended up uniting again in a United States of Europe. But Brexit has changed everything. I have opinions about what Scottish independence would be like, but I don’t really know what would happen, because no one does. We need clarity.

Every election in Scotland whether it is a General Election, a Scottish Parliament Election or even a local election is decided on the basis of what voters think about independence. A second independence referendum is continually supposed to be happening next year. I have no idea how Scottish independence would affect my house price, my job, or my pension. Neither Scottish individuals nor the Scottish Parliament can ever really plan anything, because next year or the year after there might be a referendum that changes everything.

We need to know for certain that for the next few years we need not worry about Scottish nationalists trying to partition Britain. We need to call a halt to the campaign for independence which began in the years before 2014 and which has never really stopped. We need to relax from the tension caused by us always being on the brink of leaving, always being divided from our fellow Scots, always worried that next month or next year everything we know about Scotland will change.

All for Unity has come under relentless attack lately from some Pro UK commentators to the extent that for one or two of them it has become something of an idée fixe. If you are relentlessly obsessed with All for Unity to the extent that you are struggling to write about anything else, it might be worth refocussing your attention on your own reasons for this obsession. The cure for monomania will probably not come from still further study of the D'Hondt voting system, nor indeed will it be eased by overly constant worry about how many Scottish Conservatives might lose their seats because of George Galloway. All of this is to miss the point and to focus on the trivial rather than the fundamental.

Political goals are not primarily about electoral calculation. No party would ever even begin if it gave up at the start because it had no popularity and would get zero votes. We don’t know what effect All for Unity will have on the election. But we know that the Pro UK side of the argument is ill served by Labour, the Conservatives and Lib Dems. The inability of these parties to devise a tactic that has even a chance of winning is reason enough for them to lose seats to All for Unity. Their inability to work together is the reason they will lose them to the SNP.  But more importantly All for Unity is coming up with ideas that address the central concern of Pro UK people. For this alone it deserves our support. We need clarity about independence and when if ever a second referendum might occur.

During every election I can remember since 2014 there has been speculation about whether the Prime Minister will give into demands from the SNP for a second referendum. We hear from worried sources in Westminster about Boris Johnson having to give in if Scottish nationalists won a super-majority. But nobody knows the grounds for granting or refusing a referendum, which makes it appear to depend on a whim.

There is a sort of game going on. The SNP at one point thought to include something about indyref2 on the ballot paper, but then changed its mind as indyref2 might be a vote loser. We are left to wonder if Sturgeon would only ask for indyref2 if she knows in advance that her request won’t be granted. She must know that the next few years would be the worst possible time to begin a new nation state. Lots of Scottish nationalists want independence in theory, but not in practice and at least not yet. All is uncertainty, when what Scotland needs is clarity and common purpose as we recover from the pandemic.

One of the best ideas to have come from All for Unity is the idea of a Clarity Act. You can read the details here and sign the Unity Pledge.

Imagine if David Cameron had made the SNP promise that there would be a twenty-five-year gap until they would have a second chance. It would have changed everything about the past few years in Scottish politics. Even if the SNP were in power, the Scottish Government would be focusing on schools and hospitals and other public services rather than the constitution.

Imagine if independence supporters were told that parts of Scotland that did not vote for independence would have the chance to stay in the UK if they chose to. Would that make them more or less likely to vote for independence? Some commentators thought it bizarre to suggest that Scotland might be partitioned. But this is just to accept SNP assumptions that the territorial integrity of Scotland must be maintained, while that of the UK may be threatened. Every other European nation state is secure in its territory only the UK is continually under threat. This is precisely because commentators never treat the UK as being something permanent, but always something is threatened at each election. No one else in the world thinks this way. Everyone else thinks it bizarre that while Britain can see off the threats of Germans and Russians a change in the minds of a few swing voters might and anger at England electing Tories might destroy the United Kingdom. Why should Scottish territory be inviolate when Scotland has no international existence nor an international border. If it is legitimate to partition Britain, why not Scotland? If on the other hand partition is illegitimate apply this to Britain too.  There is nothing remotely odd about the Borders choosing to join with Cumbria and Northumberland after all at various points in history the border was further north than it is now. If Orkney & Shetland can choose to stay in the UK why can’t Aberdeenshire. Scottish nationalists should win independence for only those parts of Scotland that choose it.

Scots need clarity on the issues that matter most to us. These are the ones that I think are the most important. But we are starting a debate about this issue. What matters is to bring the issue before the British Government. Supporting All for Unity is the best way to do that.

1. What currency would an independent Scotland use and how would that affect our financial situation. For instance, would Scotland have a lender of last resort if it used Sterling unofficially?

2. Would Scotland join the EU?  There is disagreement between the SNP and Alba. How long would it take and what would the conditions be?

3. Would there be hard border between Scotland and England? Would it just be a trade border, or would we have to show our Scottish passports too?

4. Would Scots be allowed to be Scottish and British citizens, or would we have to choose? How would that affect Scots living in the former UK? If they chose to be Scottish citizens would they have to apply for Leave to Remain in the former UK?

5. Would Scotland be able to join the Common Travel Area allowing us to live and work in the former UK and Ireland or would we have to join Schengen which would make that impossible.

6. Would Scotland have to receive a proportion of the UK national debt based on population? If so, this would amount to more than 100% of GDP with at present close to a 30% deficit. How could we avoid bankruptcy?

7. What trade relation would Scotland have with the former UK and the EU? How would this affect the fact that most of our trade at present is with the other parts of the UK?

8. How would Scotland leaving the UK change shared institutions such as the British Army and the BBC?

9. The former UK would no longer pay pensions or other benefits to Scots what guarantee would we have that they would be paid at all?

10. How long would divorce negotiations take and would the former UK treat Scotland like the EU treated the UK? Would relations between the former UK and Scotland be hostile or amicable.

 Let’s be clear the task of a Clarity Act would be to make Scottish independence harder to achieve. But it ought to be harder to achieve because the Scottish electorate when asked in 2014 rejected independence decisively. Most countries in the world do not allow secession at all let alone two goes in less than ten years.

Signing the All for Unity petition is an immediate way of registering your support for a Clarity Act that would give us all certainty about what independence involved and the circumstances in which a second independence referendum would be granted. But it is better still if you vote for All for Unity. None of the other parties are arguing for a Clarity Act.

We want to change Scottish politics and bring new ideas and policies that will make the UK more secure. Only when the SNP ceases to continually ask for independence because it is clear that it is not happening any time soon, will it begin to focus on running Scotland and making the lives of all Scots better whatever our view about independence.

This is what the Unity Pledge will achieve. It can do so only if you sign it and vote for All for Unity.