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?